About Selective Mutism - Profiles of Silence
Those that have worked with selectively mute children have encountered wide variations in their social actions. Some children enjoy contact with others and will play easily, but remain silent. Some have a close friend who often speaks for them by interpreting gestures. Others find all aspects of social situations uncomfortable and do not participate at all. Whatever form the condition takes, it can persist. There are children in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades who have never spoken in school. There are students in high school who have not uttered any or no more than a few words in a school setting. As you can imagine, the condition can have dramatically negative effects on social functioning.
What is Selective Mutism?
Selective mutism refers to selective silence in a child who speaks freely in very familiar situations. Children who demonstrate this condition appear comfortable and talkative with close family members. However, whenever people other than the closest family members are present, the child is quiet and shy. Some children avoid eye contact and do not communicate in any form with others. They refrain from the use of gestures or changes in facial expression.
Selective Mutism is defined by:
1) a persistent failure to speak in special social situations despite speaking in other situations
2) lack of speech which interferes with educational or occupational success
3) silence is of at least one month's duration after the beginning of the school year
4) failure to speak not due to lack of knowledge of language used in the situation
5) the disturbance is not solely accounted for by a Communication Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
How prevalent is selective mutism?
Selective mutism occurs in a small number of children, probably less than 1% of children in the elementary school settings. It is not known how often children demonstrate the problem during the pre-school years. Prevalence may be higher in the pre-school years because many more children are attending preschool programs than in the past. Children who have developmental language or articulation problems and children whose first language is not English are more likely to be selectively mute. In both circumstances, children may be quiet because of concerns about accents and limited fluency.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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