Selective mutism

Definition of Selective mutism

Selective mutism is a condition in which a child who can speak well stops speaking, usually in school or social settings.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause of selective mutism is unknown. Most experts believe that children with the condition inherit a tendency to be anxious and inhibited. Most children with this condition have some form of extreme social phobia.

Signs and tests

Teachers and counselors should consider cultural issues, such as recently moving to a new country and speaking another language. Children who are uncomfortable with a new language may not want to use it outside of a familiar setting. This is not necessarily selective mutism.

Treatment

Current treatment involves behavior changes, family participation, and the child’s school. Certain medications that treat anxiety and social phobia have been used safely and successfully.

Expectations (prognosis)

Children with this syndrome can have different outcomes. Some may need to continue therapy for shyness and social anxiety into the teenage years, and possibly into adulthood.

Review

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Michelle Benger Merrill, MD, Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 2/28/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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