Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a person normally cannot speak in specific situations, specific places, or to specific people if triggered. Selective mutism usually co-exists with social anxiety disorder.People with selective mutism stay silent even when the consequences of their silence include shame, social ostracism, or punishment.
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Children and adults with selective mutism are fully capable of speech and understanding language but are physically unable to speak in certain situations, though speech is expected of them.The behaviour may be perceived as shyness or rudeness by others. A child with selective mutism may be completely silent at school for years but speak quite freely or even excessively at home. There is a hierarchical variation among people with this disorder: some people participate fully in activities and appear social but do not speak, others will speak only to peers but not to adults, others will speak to adults when asked questions requiring short answers but never to peers, and still others speak to no one and participate in few, if any, activities presented to them. In a severe form known as "progressive mutism", the disorder progresses until the person with this condition no longer speaks to anyone in any situation, even close family members.
Selective mutism is by definition characterized by the following:
Selective mutism is strongly associated with other anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety disorder. In fact, the majority of children diagnosed with selective mutism also have social anxiety disorder (100% of participants in two studies and 97% in another).Some researchers therefore speculate that selective mutism may be an avoidance strategy used by a subgroup of children with social anxiety disorder to reduce their distress in social situations.
Particularly in young children, SM can sometimes be confused with an autism spectrum disorder, especially if the child acts particularly withdrawn around their diagnostician, which can lead to incorrect diagnosis and treatment. Although autistic people may also be selectively mute, they often display other behaviors—hand flapping, repetitive behaviors, social isolation even among family members (not always answering to name, for example)—that set them apart from a child with selective mutism. Some autistic people may be selectively mute due to anxiety in social situations that they do not fully understand. If mutism is entirely due to autism spectrum disorder, it cannot be diagnosed as selective mutism as stated in the last item on the list above.
The former name elective mutism indicates a widespread misconception among psychologists that selective mute people choose to be silent in certain situations, while the truth is that they often wish to speak but are unable to do so. To reflect the involuntary nature of this disorder, the name was changed to selective mutism in 1994.
The incidence of selective mutism is not certain. Due to the poor understanding of this condition by the general public, many cases are likely undiagnosed. Based on the number of reported cases, the figure is commonly estimated to be 1 in 1000, 0.1%.However, a 2002 study in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimated the incidence to be 0.71%.
Besides lack of speech, other common behaviors and characteristics displayed by selectively mute people, according to Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum's findings, include:
Selective mutism (SM) is an umbrella term for the condition of otherwise well-developed children who cannot speak or communicate under certain settings. The exact causes that affect each child may be different and yet unknown. There have been attempts to categorize, but there are no definitive answers yet due to the under-diagnosis and small/biased sample sizes. Many people are not diagnosed until late in childhood only because they do not speak at school and therefore fail to accomplish assignments requiring public speaking. Their involuntary silence makes the condition harder to understand or test. Parents often are unaware of the condition since the children may be functioning well at home. Teachers and pediatricians also sometimes mistake it for severe shyness or common stage fright.
Most children with selective mutism are hypothesized to have an inherited predisposition to anxiety. They often have inhibited temperaments, which is hypothesized to be the result of over-excitability of the area of the brain called the amygdala.This area receives indications of possible threats and sets off the fight-or-flight response. Behavioral inhibitions, or inhibited temperaments, encompass feelings of emotional distress and social withdrawals. In a 2016 study, the relationship between behavioral inhibition and selective mutism was investigated. Children between the ages of three and 19 with lifetime selective mutism, social phobia, internalizing behavior, and healthy controls were assessed using the parent-rated Retrospective Infant Behavioral Inhibition (RIBI) questionnaire, consisting of 20 questions that addressed shyness and fear, as well as other subscales. The results indicated behavioral inhibition does indeed predispose selective mutism. Corresponding with the researchers’ hypothesis, children diagnosed with long-term selective mutism had a higher behavioral inhibition score as an infant. This is indicative of the positive correlation between behavioral inhibition and selective mutism.
Given the very high overlap between social anxiety disorder and selective mutism (as high as 100% in some studies), it is possible that social anxiety disorder causes selective mutism. Some children with selective mutism may have trouble processing sensory information. This could cause anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations, which may cause the child to "shut down" and not be able to speak (something that some autistic people also experience). Many children with selective mutism have some auditory processing difficulties.
About 20–30% of children with SM have speech or language disorders that add stress to situations in which the child is expected to speak.Despite the change of name from "elective" to "selective", a common misconception remains that a selectively mute child is defiant or stubborn. In fact, children with SM have a lower rate of oppositional behavior than their peers in a school setting. Some previous studies on the subject of selective mutism have been dismissed as containing serious flaws in their design. According to a more recent systematic study it is believed that children who have selective mutism are not more likely than other children to have a history of early trauma or stressful life events. Another recent study by Dummit et al., in 1997 did not find any evidence of trauma in their sample of children. Recent evidence has shown that trauma does not explain why most children with selective mutism develop the condition. Many children who have selective mutism almost always speak confidently in some situations. Children who have experienced trauma however are known to suddenly stop speaking.
Contrary to popular belief, people with selective mutism do not necessarily improve with age.Effective treatment is necessary for a child to develop properly. Without treatment, selective mutism can contribute to chronic depression, further anxiety, and other social and emotional problems.
Consequently, treatment at an early age is important. If not addressed, selective mutism tends to be self-reinforcing. Others may eventually expect an afflicted child to not speak and therefore stop attempting to initiate verbal contact. Alternatively, they may pressure the child to talk, increasing their anxiety levels in situations where speech is expected. Due to these problems, a change of environment may be a viable consideration. However, changing school is worth considering only if the alternative environment is highly supportive, otherwise a whole new environment could also be a social shock for the individual or deprive them of any friends or support they have currently. Regardless of the cause, increasing awareness and ensuring an accommodating, supportive environment are the first steps towards effective treatment. Most often afflicted children do not have to change schools or classes and have no difficulty keeping up except on the communication and social front. Treatment in teenage or adult years can be more difficult because the afflicted individual has become accustomed to being mute.
The exact treatment depends on the person's age, any comorbid mental illnesses, and a number of other factors. For instance, stimulus fading is typically used with younger children because older children and teenagers recognize the situation as an attempt to make them speak, and older people with this condition and people with depression are more likely to need medication.
Like other disabilities, adequate accommodations are needed for the afflicted to succeed at school, work, and in the home. Under the U.S. federal law and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), those with the disorder qualify for services based upon the fact that they have an impairment that hinders their ability to speak, thus disrupting their lives. This assistance is typically documented in the form of an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Post-secondary accommodations are also available for people with disabilities.
Under another law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, public school districts are required to provide a free, appropriate public education to every "qualified handicapped person" residing within their jurisdiction. If the child is found to have impairments that substantially limit a major life activity (in this case, learning), the education agency has to decide what related aids or services are required to provide equal access to the learning environment.
Social Communication Anxiety Treatment (S-CAT) is a common treatment approach by professionals and has proven to be successful.S-CAT integrates components of behavioral-therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and an insight-oriented approach to increase social communication and promote social confidence. Tactics such as systemic desensitization, modeling, fading, and positive reinforcement enable individuals to develop social engagement skills and begin to progress communicatively in a step-by-step manner. There are many treatment plans that exist and it is recommended for families to do thorough research before deciding on their treatment approach.
An afflicted child is brought into the classroom or the environment where the child will not speak and is videotaped. First, the teacher or another adult prompts the child with questions that likely will not be answered. A parent, or someone the child feels comfortable speaking to, then replaces the prompter and asks the child the same questions, this time eliciting a verbal response. The two videos of the conversations are then edited together to show the child directly answering the questions posed by the teacher or other adult. This video is then shown to the child over a series of several weeks, and every time the child sees themself verbally answering the teacher/other adult, the tape is stopped and the child is given positive reinforcement.
Such videos can also be shown to afflicted children's classmates to set an expectation in their peers that they can speak. The classmates thereby learn the sound of the child's voice and, albeit through editing, have the opportunity to see the child conversing with the teacher.
Mystery motivation is often paired with self-modeling. An envelope is placed in the child's classroom in a visible place. On the envelope, the child's name is written along with a question mark. Inside is an item that the child's parent has determined to be desirable to the child. The child is told that when they ask for the envelope loudly enough for the teacher and others in the classroom to hear, the child will receive the mystery motivator. The class is also told of the expectation that the child ask for the envelope loudly enough that the class can hear.
Afflicted subjects can be brought into a controlled environment with someone with whom they are at ease and can communicate. Gradually, another person is introduced into the situation. One example of stimulus fading is the sliding-in technique,where a new person is slowly brought into the talking group. This can take a long time for the first one or two faded-in people but may become faster as the patient gets more comfortable with the technique.
As an example, a child may be playing a board game with a family member in a classroom at school. Gradually, the teacher is brought in to play as well. When the child adjusts to the teacher's presence, then a peer is brought in to be a part of the game. Each person is only brought in if the child continues to engage verbally and positively.
The subject communicates indirectly with a person to whom he or she is afraid to speak through such means as email, instant messaging (text, audio or video), online chat, voice or video recordings, and speaking or whispering to an intermediary in the presence of the target person. This can make the subject more comfortable with the idea of communicating with this person.
The subject is slowly encouraged to speak. The subject is reinforced first for interacting nonverbally, then for saying certain sounds (such as the sound that each letter of the alphabet makes) rather than words, then for whispering, and finally saying a word or more.
Spacing is important to integrate, especially with self-modeling. Repeated and spaced out use of interventions is shown to be the most helpful long-term for learning. Viewing videotapes of self-modeling should be shown over a spaced out period of time of approximately 6 weeks.
Some practitioners believe there would be evidence indicating anxiolytics to be helpful in treating children and adults with selective mutism,to decrease anxiety levels and thereby speed the process of therapy. Use of medication may end after nine to twelve months, once the person has learned skills to cope with anxiety and has become more comfortable in social situations. Medication is more often used for older children, teenagers, and adults whose anxiety has led to depression and other problems.
Medication, when used, should never be considered the entire treatment for a person with selective mutism. However, the reason why medication needs to be considered as a treatment at all is because selective mutism is still prevalent, despite psychosocial efforts. But while on medication, the person should still be in therapy to help them learn how to handle anxiety and prepare them for life without medication, as medication is typically a short-term solution.
Since selective mutism is categorized as an anxiety disorder, using similar medication to treat either makes sense. Antidepressants have been used in addition to self-modeling and mystery motivation to aid in the learning process.[ further explanation needed ] Furthermore, SSRIs in particular have been used to treat selective mutism. In a systematic review, ten studies were looked at which involved SSRI medications, and all reported medication was well tolerated. In one of them, Black and Uhde (1994) conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study investigating the effects of fluoxetine. By parent report, fluoxetine-treated children showed significantly greater improvement than placebo-treated children. In another, Dummit III et al. (1996) administered fluoxetine to 21 children for nine weeks and found that 76% of the children had reduced or no symptoms by the end of the experiment. This indicates that fluoxetine is an SSRI that is indeed helpful in treating selective mutism.
In 1877, German physician Adolph Kussmaul described children who were able to speak normally but often refused to as having a disorder he named aphasia voluntaria.Although this is now an obsolete term, it was part of an early effort to describe the concept now called selective mutism.
In 1980, a study by Torey Hayden identified what she called four "subtypes" of elective mutism (as it was called then), although this set of subtypes is not in current diagnostic use.These subtypes are no longer recognized, though "speech phobia" is sometimes used to describe a selectively mute person who appears not to have any symptoms of social anxiety.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) , first published in 1952, first included selective mutism in its third edition, published in 1980. Selective mutism was described as "a continuous refusal to speak in almost all social situations" despite normal ability to speak. While "excessive shyness" and other anxiety-related traits were listed as associated features, predisposing factors included "maternal overprotection", mental retardation, and trauma. Elective mutism in the third edition revised (DSM III-R) is described similarly to the third edition except for specifying that the disorder is not related to social phobia.
In 1994, Sue Newman, co-founder of the Selective Mutism Foundation, requested that the fourth edition of the DSM reflect the name change from elective mutism to selective mutism and describe the disorder as a failure to speak. The relation to anxiety disorders was emphasized, particularly in the revised version (DSM IV-TR). As part of the reorganization of the DSM categories, the DSM-5 moved selective mutism from the section "Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence" to the section for anxiety disorders.
Antidepressants are medications used to treat major depressive disorder, some anxiety disorders, some chronic pain conditions, and to help manage some addictions. Common side-effects of antidepressants include dry mouth, weight gain, dizziness, headaches, sexual dysfunction, and emotional blunting. There is a slight increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior when taken by children, adolescents, and young adults. A discontinuation syndrome can occur after stopping any antidepressant which resembles recurrent depression.
Anxiety disorders are a cluster of mental disorders characterized by significant and uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and fear such that a person's social, occupational, and personal function are significantly impaired. Anxiety is a worry about future events, while fear is a reaction to current events. Anxiety may cause physical and cognitive symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, easy fatigability, difficulty concentrating, increased heart rate, chest pain, abdominal pain, and many others. In casual discourse the words "anxiety" and "fear" are often used interchangeably; in clinical usage, they have distinct meanings: "anxiety" is defined as an unpleasant emotional state for which the cause is either not readily identified or perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable, whereas "fear" is an emotional and physiological response to a recognized external threat. The umbrella term "anxiety disorder" refers to a number of specific disorders that include fears (phobias) or anxiety symptoms.
Sertraline, sold under the brand name Zoloft among others, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. The efficacy of sertraline for depression is similar to that of other antidepressants, and the differences are mostly confined to side effects. Sertraline is better tolerated than the older tricyclic antidepressants, and it may work better than fluoxetine for some subtypes of depression. Sertraline is effective for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD); however, for OCD cognitive behavioral therapy, particularly in combination with sertraline, is a better treatment. Although approved for post-traumatic stress disorder, sertraline leads to only modest improvement in this condition. Sertraline also alleviates the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder and can be used in sub-therapeutic doses or intermittently for its treatment.
A paradoxical reaction or paradoxical effect is an effect of a chemical substance, typically a medical drug, that is opposite to what would usually be expected. An example of a paradoxical reaction is pain caused by a pain relief medication.
Elective mutism is a now outdated term which was defined as a refusal to speak in almost all social situations, while selective mutism was considered to be a failure to speak in specific situations and is strongly associated with social anxiety disorder. In contrast to selective mutism, it was thought someone who was electively mute may not speak in any situation, as is usually shown in books and films. Elective mutism was often attributed to defiance or the effect of trauma. Those who are able to speak freely in some situations but not in others are now better described by selective mutism.
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is listed in the DSM-5 under Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders and defined as "a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness" in children and adolescents. This behavior is usually targeted toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Unlike children with conduct disorder (CD), children with oppositional defiant disorder are not aggressive towards people or animals, do not destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft or deceit. It has certain links to ADHD and as much as one half of children with ODD will also diagnose as having ADHD as well.
Social inhibition is a conscious or subconscious avoidance of a situation or social interaction. With a high level of social inhibition, situations are avoided because of the possibility of others disapproving of their feelings or expressions. Social inhibition is related to behavior, appearance, social interactions, or a subject matter for discussion. Related processes that deal with social inhibition are social evaluation concerns, anxiety in social interaction, social avoidance, and withdrawal. Also related are components such as cognitive brain patterns, anxious apprehension during social interactions, and internalizing problems. It also describes those who suppress anger, restrict social behavior, withdraw in the face of novelty, and have a long latency to interact with strangers. Individuals can also have a low level of social inhibition, but certain situations may generally cause people to be more or less inhibited. Social inhibition can sometimes be reduced by the short-term use of drugs including alcohol or benzodiazepines. Major signs of social inhibition in children are cessation of play, long latencies to approaching the unfamiliar person, signs of fear and negative affect, and security seeking. Also in high level cases of social inhibition, other social disorders can emerge through development, such as social anxiety disorder and social phobia.
Muteness or mutism is defined as an absence of speech while conserving or maintaining the ability to hear the speech of others. Mutism is typically understood as an inability to speak on the part of a child or an adult due to an observed lack of speech from the point of view of others who know them. Such observers commonly include a mute person's family members, caregivers, teachers, and health professionals like doctors or speech and language pathologists. Muteness may not be a permanent condition, depending upon etiology (cause). In general, someone who is mute may be mute for one of several different reasons: organic, psychological, developmental/neurological trauma. For children, a lack of speech may be developmental, neurological, psychological, or due to a physical disability or a communication disorder. For adults who previously had speech and then became unable to speak, loss of speech may be due to injury, disease, termed aphasia, or surgery affecting areas of the brain needed for speech. Loss of speech in adults may occur rarely for psychological reasons.
Fluoxetine, sold under the brand names Prozac and Sarafem among others, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. It is used for the treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is also approved for treatment of major depressive disorder in adolescents and children 8 years of age and over. It has also been used to treat premature ejaculation. Fluoxetine is taken by mouth.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder management options are evidence-based practices with established treatment efficacy for ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends different treatment paradigms depending on the age of the person being treated. For those aged 4–5, the Academy recommends evidence-based parent- and/or teacher-administered behavior therapy, with the addition of methylphenidate only if there is continuing moderate-to-severe functional disturbances. For those aged 6–11, the use of medication in combination with behavior therapy is recommended, with the evidence for stimulant medications being stronger than that for other classes. For those aged 12–18, medication should be prescribed with the consent of the treated adolescent, preferably in combination with behavioral therapy. The evidence for the utility of behavioral interventions in this aged group was rated only "C" quality, however.
Child and adolescent psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders in children, adolescents, and their families. It investigates the biopsychosocial factors that influence the development and course of psychiatric disorders and treatment responses to various interventions. Child and adolescent psychiatrists primarily use psychotherapy and/or medication to treat mental disorders in the pediatric population.
Social anxiety is nervousness in social situations. Some disorders associated with the social anxiety spectrum include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. Individuals higher in social anxiety avert their gazes, show fewer facial expressions, and show difficulty with initiating and maintaining a conversation. They may exhibit irrational anxiety and fear in social interactions. This differs from shyness because it is a persistent disorder that could influence one’s capability to interact with peers and family throughout a long period of time. This disorder is commonly found in teenagers and can be persistent throughout life. Trait social anxiety, the stable tendency to experience this nervousness, can be distinguished from state anxiety, the momentary response to a particular social stimulus. Nearly 90% of individuals, more of whom are women, report feeling symptoms of social anxiety at some point in their lives. Half of the individuals with any social fears meet the criteria for social anxiety disorder. Age, culture, and gender impact the severity of this disorder. The function of social anxiety is to increase arousal and attention to social interactions, inhibit unwanted social behavior, and motivate preparation for future social situations.
Mental disorders diagnosed in childhood are divided into two categories: childhood disorders and learning disorders. These disorders are usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence, as laid out in the DSM-IV-TR and in the ICD-10. The DSM-IV-TR includes ten subcategories of disorders including mental retardation, Learning Disorders, Motor Skills Disorders, Communication Disorders, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Attention-Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Feeding and Eating Disorders, Tic Disorders, Elimination Disorders, and Other Disorders of Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged unhappiness or irritability, accompanied by a constellation of somatic and cognitive signs and symptoms such as fatigue, apathy, sleep problems, or loss of appetite; low self-regard or worthlessness; difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Depression in childhood and adolescence is similar to adult major depressive disorder, although young sufferers may exhibit increased irritability or behavioral dyscontrol instead of the more common sad, empty, or hopeless feelings seen with adults. Children who are under stress, experiencing loss, have attention, learning, behavioral, or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Childhood depression is often comorbid with mental disorders outside of other mood disorders; most commonly anxiety disorder and conduct disorder. Depression also tends to run in families. In a 2016 Cochrane review cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), third wave CBT and interpersonal therapy demonstrated small positive benefits in the prevention of depression. Psychologists have developed different treatments to assist children and adolescents suffering from depression, though the legitimacy of the diagnosis of childhood depression as a psychiatric disorder, as well as the efficacy of various methods of assessment and treatment, remains controversial.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by sentiments of fear and anxiety in social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some aspects of daily life. These fears can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. Individuals with social anxiety disorder fear negative evaluation from other people.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drugs that are typically used as antidepressants in the treatment of major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, and other psychological conditions.
Ruth Perednik is an English-born Israeli psychologist, pioneer in the field of selective mutism.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home and/or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. It is most common in infants and small children, typically between the ages of six to seven months to three years, although it may pathologically manifest itself in older children, adolescents and adults. Separation anxiety is a natural part of the developmental process. Unlike SAD, normal separation anxiety indicates healthy advancements in a child's cognitive maturation and should not be considered a developing behavioral problem.
The Disruptive Behavior Disorders Rating Scale (DBDRS) is a 45-question screening measure, completed by either parents or teachers, designed to identify symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder in children and adolescents.
The Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED) is a self-report screening questionnaire for anxiety disorders developed in 1997. The SCARED is intended for youth, 9–18 years old, and their parents to complete in about 10 minutes. It can discriminate between depression and anxiety, as well as among distinct anxiety disorders. The SCARED is useful for generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobic disorders, and potentially school anxiety problems. Most available self-report instruments that measure anxiety in children look at general aspects of anxiety rather than Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) categorizations. The SCARED was developed as an instrument for both children and their parents that would encompass several DSM-IV categorizations of the anxiety disorders: somatic/panic, generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, social phobia, and school phobia.