Selective mutism


Selective mutism is a disorder characterized by the inability of the victim to speak in specific social settings, especially those they are unfamiliar with. It usually begins in childhood and failure to seek treatment may see it carry on till adulthood. Notably, those affected do not choose to mute in selective environments, but they become literary incapable of talking. Whenever they are expected to speak to particular individuals, an automatic freeze response is triggered which makes talking impossible. The person learns to anticipate and prepare for such situations; thus, they overcome the anxiety over time. Remarkably, persons with selective mutism freely speak with people they are familiar with in the absence of those likely to trigger the distressing reaction. According to the National Health Service, about 1 in 140 children are victims to selective mutism and is more prone in girls and kids learning a second language in a country different from the one they were born in (NHS). This paper covers the types of behavioral challenges, learning difficulties, physical problems or limitations, and their impact on the child in the child care environment.

The condition starts early in a child’s life when they begin to interact with people outside their immediate family, for instance, when they commence school. There is typically a noticeable difference in the child’s engagement within and outside their comfort zone (Kotrba, Whittelsey & Rubenezer, 2014). The anxiety is evident in their facial expression, they freeze suddenly, and avoid eye contact. Children become uneasy, nervous and feel socially awkward. They become shy and act withdrawn in unfamiliar environments and may tend to cling on to the people they know. When left in the absence of family, they may sulk, be rude, or appear disinterested in the activities going on (Kratochwill, 2015). Sometimes, they experience difficulty in coordinating and become stiff or tense. On returning home, children can be aggressive or stubborn and may be readily irritable when asked questions. However, confident kids with selective mutism opt to use non-verbal modes of communication. For example, they may nod or shake their heads to agree or disagree respectively. Those severely affected stay away from gestured, written, or spoken language. Some may attempt to speak a few words or change their usual speech into whispers. Fundamentally, the child becomes their true self in a relaxed environment where they are not affected by the selective mutism.

Selective mutism is a phobia whose cause is not apparent but has immediate association with anxiety. According to an article, the condition can be contributed by both environmental and biological factors (Morrisey, 2012). Some children have a family history of anxiety disorders (Mash, & Wolfe, 2016). A trained therapist can diagnose children by interviewing their parents, observing, and speaking with the child (Goldenthal, 2005). To guarantee adequacy, the therapist may need to conduct a developmental assessment, physical examination, language and speech evaluation, and a psychological analysis of the patient (Bergman, 2013). In the absence of a family history of an anxiety-related disorder, the cause is often environmental (In-Flamez & In-Sheperis, 2016). Hearing problem or speech and language disorder give children difficulty in speaking. Children with sensory integration dysfunction develop anxiety issues when overwhelmed by loud noises in busy environments (Einstein, 2007). Thus, they become unable to speak in the crowded places. Notably, selective mutism is not always a symptom of autism although a child may suffer from both disorders at the same time (Angelone, 2017). For a school-going child, their learning and socialization in school are affected by selective mutism. They may develop low self-esteem, sometimes refuse to go to kindergarten, and also perform poorly in academics. Some dread becoming excellent performers because it may draw attention towards them. These children would prefer starving or to hold their bladders for long, as opposed to excusing themselves to eat or go to the toilet (Mac, 2015). Assignments are poorly done by such pupils because they are too anxious to ask questions and clarify information. It not only troubles the victim, but it also makes it difficult for the teacher to dispense knowledge and skills to the pupil (Kearney, 2010). With appropriate training, staff in early childhood education institution can provide adequate support for learners with selective mutism.

Teachers can ease the anxiety by making sure that the spotlight is not on the specific child. That way, they get a chance to communicate in a way they feel most comfortable and slowly outgrow their nervousness. Notably, the goal is not to make the pupil talk but rather to make them feel comfortable and ease anxiety. When joining a new school, it is critical that the child gets to familiarize with the teacher and the classroom beforehand. That can help the child to anticipate their new environment so that the pupil will not be immensely anxious on the first days. The line between commanding and persuading is quite thin. Therefore, tutors should only encourage selective mutism children to speak as opposed to pressuring them to talk. Reading literature on Selective mutism that offer practical information is essential in understanding the pupils better Kervatt, 2015). That knowledge will help to perceive the child’s behavior as disorder that is beyond their control as opposed to being a rude or defiant (Johnson, & Wintgens, 2012). In asking questions, an article suggests that teachers need to give a learner approximately five seconds without repeating the prompt or allowing other kids to answer (Child Mind Institute, 2015). That assists them to learn to accommodate their nervousness. In addition, they need to avoid asking questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response because children with selective mutism may find it easier to simply nod or shake their heads. Instead, they should invest in open-ended questions that will trigger a verbal response. The practice of echoing what the pupil says comes in handy to reinforce their confidence knowing that they have been heard and understood. Importantly, they should not be forced to speak and all the staff in the school need to be aware of the child’s condition (Ciffman-Yohros, 2017). Apart from verbal practices, it is critical to incorporate silent reading, board games, and writing in the learning process. In addition, small group activities can be helpful for adaptation and the team members should remain constant for a long time (Christine, 2015). The teacher should also be in constant communication with the child’s therapist to monitor their progress (Smith, Sluckin, Jemmett, Lanes, Jones, Bramble, Firth & Johnson, 2014).

Specific arrangements can be made to further make selective mutism kids more comfortable in school. It is important to note they are predisposed to the possibility of being bullied. Therefore, protective measures need to be put in place to safeguard them. For instance, they should sit close to the teacher or a friend he appears to be comfortable around; preferably on the side and not in front. An arrangement for the two pupils to develop a friendship outside school through their parents can be helpful for the selective mutant pupil. In the absence of the specific child with the condition, the teacher may explain the disorder to other classmates to encourage them to be friendly and discourage an overreaction. It is good for the teacher to avoid eye contact with the pupil in the first days as they try to adopt. Arrangements can be made to excuse the child from asking for permission when they need to use the bathroom. Consequently, their activities will flow smoothly and tension will decrease. Notably, changes in routine triggers anxiety in children with selective mutism. Therefore, it is critical to maintain a predictable schedule or notify the child of any changes in advance so that they prepare for it.

In circle time, the groups need to be small enough to ease tension. In the case where the child is learning a second language, the teacher ought to allow the students to communicate in their first language once in a while. It is preferable that they are put on the same team with a pupil that speaks a similar native language as themselves so that they feel at ease (Spasaro, 1999). In addition, they should not be coerced to talk until they are comfortable to do so. Fellow team members need to be aware of the condition of the pupil and try to accommodate their anxiety. The teacher should not change the members of the group because, with time, the child with selective mutism will get used to them and become comfortable. Free play should not be limited to verbal activities. Instead, it should involve non-verbal undertakings that do not require the children to talk much. For instance, playing a game of hide-and-seek will only need children to find each other in their hiding spots. With time, the tension eases up, and the pupil will automatically communicate without fear. Lunch and snack time needs to be mandatory for all children.  That will come in handy for the selective mutant pupils who are often scared of excusing themselves to go out and eat. During that break, they get an opportunity to eat and drink without the fear that all attention is on them. A day free from anxiety guarantees children with selective mutism a peaceful sleep. Notably, dreams are a reflection of thoughts preconceived throughout the day. The more the teacher attempts to ensure that the child has an easy day, the easier it will be for them to sleep well. Fundamentally, modifying a child’s activities in school to eliminate all forms of anxiety is essential in them overcoming the selective mutism condition.

Selective mutism causes the victim to freeze involuntarily when confronted with unfamiliar situations or people. Notably, some children suffer from this condition when they join preschool and experience a foreign environment. Similarly, enrolling in a school in a country where their native language is not spoken, and they have to learn a second language may trigger that effect. Depending on the intensity of the disorder, pupils may mute, speak a few words, or whisper when they have to talk. The staff that the child interacts with in the school need to be aware of the situation for them to be considerate when dealing with them. Strategies in the classroom like sitting the pupil on the side as opposed to the front and partnering them with a friend can help them ease anxiety. Planning activities that do not bring attention to the child and are less vocal are vital in meeting the needs of the child. With the right measures, selective autism can be managed and be overcome.

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