Selective mutism is commonly attached to autism and social anxiety in children. While it falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders and does have attachments to such symptoms, it is in fact a diagnosis in itself, with a range of very particular signs and symptoms.

Throughout childhood, the development of shy tendencies is normal, as it’s a time of self-development and assurance. While many people will put the symptoms of selective mutism down to shyness, the realism of such a condition is far from a personality trait.

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While definite causation of selective mutism is yet to be uncovered, it is a complex anxiety disorder, found in children, which if untreated, can materialise into adulthood.

It manifests by causing significant anxiety, to the point where socialisation, communication and engagement become impossible with certain people/in certain situations.

Imagine being in a position where you cannot speak, not down to personal choice, but down to the control of anxiety and its symptoms. This is a clear interpretation of what it’s like to live with selective mutism, where certain environments, relationships or interactions can cause debilitating symptoms of fear.

Resembling the subconscious formation of a phobia, societal pressures can make it very difficult to live with anxiety, which is why we’re here to offer a helping hand here at Nova Recovery.

Consider selective mutism treatment for your child, or for yourself if symptoms have continued from childhood, to manage your anxiety symptoms.

What is selective mutism?

Most children will become shy around strangers or in new situations. However, as such exposure progresses, shyness can begin to dwindle, where self-confidence and awareness reside.

For a child with selective mutism, such development can be impossible in certain situations or engagements, where the inability to speak or communicate clearly becomes apparent.

Selective mutism is found to affect every 1 in 140 children, where signs usually show between the ages of 2 and 4. While it can be difficult to diagnose, as personalities and characters are still developing at such an early age, there are clear signs that secure the diagnosis of selective mutism.

It’s a complex anxiety disorder, as such children can engage. Yet, in certain situations or with certain people, an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear is known to engulf them, making it impossible to verbally interact.

Causations of selective mutism are unclear, yet links to pre-existing symptoms of social anxiety, phobias and autism are high in children, indicating that susceptibility to stress and pressure is also high.

If untreated, selective mutism can be extremely challenging to live with, down to its unpredictable nature, its controlling traits and its unhealthy manifestation. Here’s where selective mutism treatment should be accepted, to reduce adulthood suffering.

Selective mutism in children and adults

Selective mutism in children will usually be identifiable once a sense of socialisation is experienced. This will be found in school, nursery or hobbies, where the inability to engage with those outside of their comfort zone is one of the clearest indicators. Common symptoms of selective mutism in children include:

  • A withdrawn personality
  • Clingy
  • Anxious and uneasy
  • Disengaged from other children/activities
  • Stubbornness
  • The inability to communicate with certain people
  • A strong likelihood of freezing, instead of engaging
  • Socially awkward, deviating from general shyness

Many of the above symptoms may be put down to signs of autism, poor parenting, or excessive isolation as a child.

However, while experienced on a consistent basis, along with clear signs of anxiety, a selective mutism diagnosis will instead be very likely. There in fact isn’t a correlation between such symptoms and parenting styles/abuse.

In children, selective mutism is more common in those with speech or hearing difficulties, is a development of PTSD, where fear has ingrained within certain engagements, and where a subconscious connection forms to influence the manifestation of shutting down.

While treatable and manageable, unfortunately, selective mutism in adults is also common, where symptoms reside into later life. Understandably, this can be extremely difficult to live with and to maintain a quality life.

As such signs are easier to spot in adults, down to developmental factors, a diagnosis of selective mutism, followed by treatment is easier to make.

No matter who experiences symptoms of selective mutism, it is a complex disorder that causes a significant transfer of early-life anxiety, onto a sense of speech and connectivity. Through that, selective mutism treatment will be required to desensitise such transfer.

Selective mutism treatment

Selective mutism treatment can be tailored around the symptoms, needs and responses of children, as the unpredictability of the disorder does cause multifaceted areas of treatment.

The common treatments for selective mutism are shared below, which we can assist with here at Nova Recovery.

  • CBT 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most populated talking therapies, as it provides rational insight into behaviours, emotions and responses.

By opening up through CBT, transferable fears can be considered, while offering clarity around reasonable responses, coping strategies and perceptions.

While CBT is best suited to older children and adults, approaches of CBT can be beneficial for children with selective mutism.

  • Desensitisation 

Fear of engagement can materialise like a phobia, may be down to speech or language problems, or may be heightened by social anxiety.

Desensitising the sensitivity of exposure is helpful when treating selective mutism, to help ease such exposure through small yet protective steps.

In combination with confidence boosting sessions, and speech, language and engagement techniques, greater exposure can soon be experienced of personal triggers.

  • Family therapy 

Living with selective mutism can be tough for children and family members. Family therapy will be beneficial to offer emotional support for all members, along with providing greater insight into selective mutism, management techniques and how to sustain balance from home.

  • Reinforcement therapy 

Reinforcement therapy is used to promote positivity through the action of engagement. While this can take some time to work, as an understanding of anxiety and its impacts must be present, it can help to make connectivity a positive experience, rather than a negative.

  • Medication  

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed in the midst of selective mutism. However, this will only be for teenagers/adults and for those who are experiencing depression with anxiety.

Medication will not be prescribed for children, as talking therapies and behavioural treatments are effective, especially when combined with confidence-boosting sessions.

Selective mutism can be difficult to comprehend without experiencing it or knowing of a child with symptoms. Yet, it is more common than imaginable, causing crippling anxiety for children.

Development is very important, supporting the need for selective mutism treatment, which we offer here at Nova Recovery. Without such a step, adulthood can be impacted by common symptoms, making interactivity difficult to normalise.

Promote positive reinforcements through talking therapies for selective mutism.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: April 28, 2021

John has travelled extensively around the world, culminating in 19 years’ experience looking at different models. He is the European pioneer of NAD+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) treatment to Europe in 2010; and recently back from the USA bringing state of the art Virtual Reality Relapse Prevention and stress reduction therapy. His passion extends to other metabolic disturbances and neurodegenerative diseases. The journey continues. In recent times, John has travelled to Russia to study and research into a new therapy photobiomudulation or systemic laser therapy working with NAD+ scientists and the very best of the medical professionals in the UK and the USA, together with Nadcell, Bionad Hospitals own select Doctors, nurses, dieticians and therapists. Johns’ passion continues to endeavour to bring to the UK and Europe new developments with NAD+ Therapy in preventive and restorative medicine and Wellness. In 2017 John Gillen was made a visiting Professor at the John Naisbitt university in Belgrade Serbia.