What Causes Selective Mutism?

Does your child have a hard time speaking when they feel uncomfortable? If so, they might have an anxiety disorder known as selective mutism. People with this disorder become so anxious or fearful in certain social situations that they find it difficult or even impossible to speak, despite having no issues talking when they feel more comfortable. This inability to speak isn’t a willful choice. Selective mutism is most common among young children, but it can also affect adolescents, teenagers, and adults.

Researchers are still working to determine exactly what causes selective mutism. However, studies show that people with certain other mental health conditions—including autism spectrum disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), separation anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder—are more likely to develop selective mutism. Being bullied, enduring abuse, or witnessing violence or a traumatic event can also play a role. Research also indicates that having communication issues (for example, stuttering) or a family history of selective mutism can increase someone’s risk of developing the disorder.

Other Symptoms of Selective Mutism

As was noted above, the hallmark characteristic of selective mutism is an inability to speak in uncomfortable situations. If your child has this disorder, they may also:

  • Become tense or stiff
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Have a blank facial expression
  • Whisper, mumble, or stutter
  • Give short, slow responses
  • Change the tone of their voice
  • Communicate without words (for example, by writing down their responses or using hand gestures)
  • Hide behind an adult they trust
  • Avoid or act out in certain social situations

Learn More About Selective Mutism

If you’d like to know more about what causes selective mutism and what treatment may involve, contact us today. We’ll be glad to set up an initial consultation with one of the experienced therapists on our team.

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