An Overview of Selective Mutism

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Hesselman coined the term “selective mutism” in 1983 to describe the disorder previously called “aphasia voluntaria, elective mutism, speech phobia, psychological mutism, and hearing mute” among fourteen other historic terms (Dow, Freeman, Garcia, Leonard, & Miller, 2004; Kearney, 2010). The American Psychiatric Association, or APA, characterizes selective mutism by a “persistent failure to speak in specific social situations where speech is expected, despite speaking in other situations.” Selective mutism shifted in recent years from being viewed as a response to trauma sustained early in life to a manifestation of an anxiety disorder (Dow et al, 2004). This paper briefly covers all aspects of selective mutism from signs and symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. Selective mutism is a rare condition and some discrepancies exist pertaining to its incidence. Beidel and Turner (2005) state that the incidence falls between .18-.76 percent, while Kearney (2010) states that the incidence falls between .20-2.0 percent. No known cause currently exists. Researchers identified common similarities between children with selective mutism. The most prevalent similarities are gender (1.5 females have selective mutism compared to every one male), having a language or anxiety disorder, having a social phobia, and a family history of selective mutism or social phobia. Dow, Freeman, Garcia, Leonard, and Miller (2004) state that out of patients with selective mutism, “70 percent had a first degree relative with a social phobia or avoidant disorder and 37 percent had a first degree relative with selective mutism” (p. 286). The APA classifies selective mutism under DSM-IV. A child’s behavior must meet these criteria for diagnosis of sele... ... middle of paper ... ...n. If a child’s speech and language skills are inadequate, the speech-language pathologist will work with the child to improve the skill that the child struggles with. They also help parents and teachers understand what the child is experiencing and how to assist with implementing the provided treatment plan. Selective mutism is a rare disorder that affects mainly children. Treating selective mutism early and vigorously leads to success. Research about treatment methods and causes of selective mutism is limited due to the rarity and uniqueness of the disorder. While no known cause is recognized for contributing to selective mutism, professionals use many indicators to assess and diagnose a child. Children with selective mutism, contrary to popular belief, do communicate through gestures and nods but fail to speak in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations.
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