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What is Selective Mutism?

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For most young children, entering school is an exciting time. Some children, however, experience significant anxiety and fear about being in a strange place and having to talk to people they do not know well. In the home, these children may speak freely and many are often described as “chatterboxes: by family and close friends. In situations with strangers, and even with some family members the child does not see on a regular basis, these children become silent and they are described by observers as “frozen” and “ vacant.” Such a child, as well as the child’s family, needs help and support. This child is suffering from a childhood disorder known as selective mutism. Click
to watch Dr. Lunceford discussing selective mutism on the news.

Selective mutism, once believed rare, is perplexing for many mental health professionals because they have never heard of the disorder. Of greatest concern is that selective mutism (SM) is frequently misdiagnosed as autism or Asperger’s disorder, so a more comprehensive and widespread understanding of the disorder and its treatment are needed. Selective mutism (SM) is a childhood anxiety disorder. Children with this disorder feel a tremendous amount of fear about speaking in certain situations. The most common situation where this disorder arises is in the school setting, as most SM kids feel overwhelming anxiety about speaking in the classroom.

What is frustrating for many who know a selectively mute child is that the child speaks normally in situations where comfortable. If you are one of the people the child does not speak to, you can easily feel frustrated and perhaps even take the problem personally. SM does not occur because the child doesn’t like you, though. The anxiety is due to the child’s fear of being evaluated or being made fun of. Please visit the other links on this page for more information about diagnosing and treating this disorder.

by Dr. Lynn Lunceford, Clinical Psychologist

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