When children persistently fail to talk within specific situations for over a month, it may be diagnosed as the psychiatric disorder called selective mutism. Though the kids with selective mutism are able to speak and understand language, they will typically speak only with their parents and a few individuals. However, there may be specific family members, friends, or other people with whom they simply will not speak. In the majority of cases, these children will not speak while they are in social situations such as while they’re at school.
Other than their lack of speech, children with selective mutism will generally function quite normally. This being said, there are some who have additional symptoms of mental or emotional disorders as well. Typically speaking, the majority of kids who have selective mutism will still learn all of their school lessons and age-appropriate skills, just as their class peers will.
The current belief surrounding selective mutism is that it is linked to circumstances of extreme anxiety, social anxiety, and/or shyness. Though there are many different elements to which selective mutism may be linked, the precise cause of the condition has yet to be determined.
Though they do not communicate through speech, children who suffer from selective mutism will still communicate with others around them by using hand gestures, nodding, shaking their heads, pointing, or by simply remaining completely still and expressionless until the other person is able to guess what it is the child is trying to say.
It is important to recognize that a child with selective mutism is not simply being difficult. In fact, many have shown strong desires for speaking within the situations that they are currently mute, but they find themselves simply unable to do so due to their shyness, anxiety, fear, or a feeling of being embarrassed. For this reason, many will still participate in typical activities for children their age, only they will do so non-verbally.
It is not normally until the child is old enough to go to school that the symptoms of selective mutism will generally appear. At first, these children are just seen as being quite shy and that the withdrawn behaviors will simply pass over time when the child becomes more comfortable in the situation and outgrows the phase. If the selective mutism is diagnosed, it usually won’t occur until it has already existed for at least two years, when the habits of non-verbal living will have become a regular part of the way the child experiences his or her world. It becomes increasingly hard to change the behaviors of the children with the amount of time that passes without verbalization.