If you are new to the world of speech-language pathology and therapeutic preschool programs, you may not know a great deal about selective mutism. This is a rare condition that severely impacts the ability of a child to communicate with others, usually in school or the community. If you believe your child or a student in your therapeutic preschool program could have selective mutism, it is important to know that this condition is more involved than simply not wanting to speak in different settings.
What is it?
If a child has selective mutism, they will exhibit ongoing mutism in social situations, despite speaking when they are at home (or in other settings). It is important to note that this condition is more than just initial shyness when starting school for the first time. When a child is showing signs of selective mutism, they are likely also experiencing a form of social anxiety, which is why they are not speaking in social settings. Children with selective mutism will typically begin showing signs of the condition before reaching the age of five, so the symptoms can be addressed early on, with the intervention of a speech-language pathologist.
While children with selective mutism do not speak in certain settings, this is not a communication disorder! Also, it does not equate to cognitive delays or a lack of comprehension regarding what is occurring at school. Children who experience this may understand everything going on in their classroom, yet their mutism may still negatively affect their performance in school and ability to form relationships.
How many children have it?
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) states that fewer than 1% of individuals who receive treatment for mental health have selective mutism.
While selective mutism is not a commonly occurring condition for speech-language pathologists or therapeutic preschool teachers to encounter, it is important to be familiar with the symptoms and treatments. If a child in a therapeutic preschool program is showing signs of selective mutism, they may also be receiving additional therapy outside of this program, as this condition requires the care of a multidisciplinary team. For instance, since many children with selective mutism also experience severe social anxiety, they a child psychologist (or psychiatrist) and pediatrician may be involved in developing a treatment plan, in addition to a speech-language pathologist.
Remember, every child is a unique learner, so there is not one single treatment plan that works perfectly for every child. Click here if you would like to learn more about this condition from ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.