Understanding Selective Mutism
Children can pick up speech disorders due to their inability to speak in social settings. Selective mutism is one such disorder. Children who can speak perfectly at almost all times choose to remain quiet in a particular social setting. The incapability to speak in a social atmosphere is elected by the child and hence, the name.
Symptoms of Selective Mutism: Children usually pick up this syndrome before the age of five usually after being put into school. Also known as elective mutism, children purposefully elect not to speak.
Let us observe the symptoms exhibited by a child who suffers from elective mutism-
- persistently failing to speak in social atmospheres where a child is expected to speak (for instance, at schools).
- not choosing to speak can have an affect on the work at school and in interactions.
- this problem can last for more than a month (even after the initial month at school).
- like the name describes, the muteness is chosen by the child despite him/her knowing the language and also being knowledgeable about the situation.
- the mutism is not the resultant of a specific speech or neurogenic disorder (like in most other cases).
Other traits of this syndrome would include-
- social phobia
- fear of being embarrassed in social settings
- excessive shyness
- withdrawal from social occasions and isolation
Diagnosis: Speech language pathologists in association with paediatricians and psychologists and with the help of parents and teachers gather the complete information about the child. The diagnosis would include assessing the educational background, hearing abilities, oral motor skills and interaction with parents.
Along with the above criteria, speech language evaluation is also done based on the child’s-
- language comprehension
- verbal and non-verbal skills
- expressive language skills
Treatment: Based on the above diagnostics, a speech therapist would develop a program as per the child’s needs.
The treatment program would constitute the following:
Stimulus Fading: Allows the child to relax and lets him/her speak to someone comfortable with. Gradually, the therapist would introduce new people into the sessions.
Shaping: All kinds of communication like gesturing, whispering et. are introduced in this session until the child is comfortable to produce speech.
Self-Modelling: In this technique, the child would be shown clippings of himself/herself at home and the ease with which they speak. These can be used as motivators allowing the child to do the same in a classroom or any other social setting.
Selective mutism in a child can be avoided if diagnosed and treated early.