Misunderstanding: constant explanation

What is most frustrating to any parent is the confusion about what Selective Mutism and the reason behind it. The words we often hear from professionals range from:

  • let's find out why he is "refusing to talk" 
  • did anything happen, what kind of trauma has he experienced to cause this?
  • he must have a good control to be able to not speak like that

These are the phrases that are the most repeatable, other range from accusing the child of misbehaving, being rude, obstinate and then being yelled at for not speaking particularly at school. Fortunately so far we have not had pretty sympathetic ears which might be related to my son's age.

The reason for all of this confusion is that until 1994 Selective Mutism was known as Elective Mutism, elective implies that the child or person involved chooses freely who she or he will or will not speak to, that their is a choice and does lead to impressions of a child who is a spoilt brat.

What is most significant is the change of diagnosis features for example prior to 1994 as a "persistent refusal to speak in 1 or more major social situations." Now this has changed to "failure to speak in specific social situations." The change of this statement reflects more accurately what happens in the mind of a person who has Selective Mutism. In the past people believed that the children were refusing to speak, which implied that they did not want to. However what really happens is that it is not the case of not wanting to speak, but being able to speak. When confronted with a social situation, the response to feeling anxious is not speak and on some levels provides relief.

Secondly of most relief to most mothers is the reference to predisposing factors in the past it was believed it was due to "maternal overprotection, language and speech disorders, mental retardation and trauma possible." Now it is linked more to family history (anxiety) especially of family members who have had Selective Mutism, speech delays and disorders and other factors. However rarely some instances it can be related to trauma.

With all these changes the issue remains that because of the rarity of Selective Mutism most professionals that parents of children come across most likely would not know a lot about Selective Mutism and most likely is that when they studied they learnt the old criteria and it takes some time to redefine Selective Mutism for these people. The other issue is that some of the therapy approaches do not typically work because of the complexity of Selective Mutism.

Information taken from the "Selective Mutism Foundation" website please check out the highlights of significant DSM changes and contrast table.