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Selective Mutism – Why Won’t My Child Talk In Public?

GroundWork Counseling in Orlando specializes providing evidence-based therapy for children, and teens (ages 6+) with selective mutism and social anxiety disorder. We understand that selective mutism is a complex disorder that can be difficult to diagnose, but our experienced clinicians are trained to recognize the symptoms and develop an effective treatment plan. Our approach combines cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy to reduce selective mutism symptoms and improve social communication. We provide a safe, supportive environment where children can practice new skills and build confidence. 

What is Selective Mutism?

Chances are, you haven’t heard of Selective Mutism, yet it is not an uncommon disorder in children. The Selective Mutism Treatment Guide shares that Selective Mutism is a childhood social communication disorder in which children consistently fail to speak in selective situations. It is common for these issues to arise at about five years old or when a child begins school (ADAA).

The DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria for Selective Mutism (SM): 

  •  They must consistently fail to speak in social situations where they are expected to speak.
  • The child’s lack of communication must also interfere with their educational and or social interaction.
  • The duration of the disturbance must last longer than one month in order to be considered Selective Mutism (not limited to the first month of school).
  • The failure to speak cannot be attributed to a lack of knowledge or linguistic discomfort.
  • The disturbance is not better explained by a communication disorder and does not exclusively occur during the course of autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, etc
  • The lack of communication or interaction that is Selective Mutism is typically situational and does not usually persist within the home or with close loved ones. Those who suffer from Selective Mutism may actually be extremely talkative outside of their states of discomfort (ADAA).

Social Anxiety Connection to Selective Mutism

Often times, the fear of the communication can stem from the insecurity of saying something that would cause a child to be perceived as “stupid” or “bad” in a social situation, which leads to avoidance. Within states of discomfort however, is it not uncommon for those who suffer SM to rely on gesturing or the act of grunting or pointing (DSM-V). The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies shares that, though it may seem that children who suffer from SM are being stubborn or refusing to speak or interact, they are typically experiencing a great deal of anxiety. According to The Selective Mumtusim Treatment Guide, about 90 percent of the children who suffer from selective mutism or SM struggle with social anxiety disorder.

Common Triggers for those with Selective Mutism

  • School admission
  • Frequent moves
  • Negative reactions to child talking—bullying, shouting, mocking, disagreement

Evidence-Based Therapy for Selective Mutism

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ERP (exposure and response prevention) are two of the most common methods used to treat selective mutism. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on helping individuals understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours interact and can contribute to symptoms. It teaches strategies for managing selective mutism by examining unhelpful patterns of thinking that may be preventing effective communication. ERP involves gradually exposing oneself to social situations in a safe environment without being overwhelmed. This helps patients gain confidence in their ability to express themselves in increasingly challenging environments over time. With the guidance of a qualified clinician, selective mutism sufferers can learn to confront their fears and anxieties, overcome their selective mutism, and interact more comfortably with their peers.

Selective Mutism and social avoidance can have long-term negative impact on social functioning if not treated appropriately utilizing evidence-based treatment. If you have a child who is suffering from symptoms of social anxiety or Selective Mutism, we are here to help. At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our child therapists are trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the gold standard of treatment of anxiety disorders. CBT aims to address irrational thought patterns, and change unhelpful thought processes, helping your child gain skills to feel more confident and less anxious.

CBT Therapy At GroundWork, Orlando

At GroundWork Counseling, our therapists specalize in CBT and ERP; our treatment plans are tailored to each child and designed to help not only children, but also their families with guidance and support. Through evidence therapy we believe that children can build communication skills and feel confident in social settings.

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GroundWork Counseling, LLC
400 S Orlando Ave #206
Maitland, FL 32751

Virtual therapy options available for individuals residing in Florida.

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