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Question

i have a seven year old daughter that refuses to speak in school. she is very smart and has no issues in her academics. She just selects who she wants to speak to. She is now in the second grade. She never spoke to any of her teachers or classmates since preschool. However she is a chatter box at home to all my family members and my close friends. This is quite frustrating for me as a single parent and it is quite frustrating for her teachers. I took her to a psychologist and we had about 10 visits. She would not speak to the psychologist either. She does not have autism or any depression syndromes. The psychologist tested for that. How can i get her to speak to kids her age and to her teachers. PLEASE HELP. Im losing my mind.

Answer

Naomi Drew Replied: I sympathize with your frustration. What you have described is a syndrome that occurs in children of normal intelligence who experience anxiety in social settings. It's called Selective Mutism. Children with this syndrome can speak perfectly well, but don't do so in settings where they feel anxious, uncomfortable, or unsafe.

Below is some information from The Selective Mutism Center. I hope it will shed some light on what your daughter is experiencing. This is a treatable condition, but it takes time, patience, and a skilled clinician. With the right interventions, kids with selective mutism can make excellent progress. Time and trust are critical.
FROM THE SELECTIVE MUTISM CENTER (http://www.selectivemutismcenter.org/cms/what_is_selective_mutism.aspx).
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What behavior characteristics does a child with Selective Mutism portray in social settings?

It is important to realize that the majority of children with Selective Mutism are as normal and are as socially appropriate as any other child when in a comfortable environment.Parents will often comment how boisterous, social, funny, inquisitive, extremely verbal, and even bossy and stubborn these children are at home!What differentiates most children with Selective Mutism is their severe behavioral inhibition and inability to speak and communicate comfortably in most social settings.

Some children with Selective Mutism feel as though they are ‘on stage' every minute of the day!This can be quite heart wrenching for both the child and parents involved.Often, these children show signs of anxiety before and during most social events.Physical symptoms and negative behaviors are common before school or social outings.

It is important for parents and teachers to understand that the physical and behavioral symptoms are due to anxiety and treatment needs to focus on helping the child learn the coping skills to combat anxious feelings.

It is common for many children with Selective Mutism to have a blank facial expression and never seem to smile.Many have stiff or awkward body language when in a social setting and seem very uncomfortable or unhappy.Some will turn their heads, chew or twirl their hair, avoid eye contact, or withdraw into a corner or away from the group seemingly more interested in playing alone.

Others are less avoidant and do not seem as uncomfortable. They may play with one or a few children and be very participatory in groups.These children will still be mute or barely communicate with most classmates and teachers.

As social relationships are built and a child develops one or a few friendships, he/she may interact and perhaps whisper or speak to a few children in school or other settings but seem to be disinterested or ignore other classroom peers. Over time, these children learn to cope and participate in certain social settings. They usually perform nonverbally or by talking quietly to a select few.Social relationships become very difficult as children with Selective Mutism grow older. As peers begin dating and socializing more, children with Selective Mutism may remain more aloof, isolated and alone.

Children with Selective Mutism often have tremendous difficulty initiating and may hesitate to respond even nonverbally.This can be quite frustrating to the child as time goes by.The child's nonverbal communication may go on for many years, becoming more ingrained and reinforced unless the child is properly diagnosed and treated.Ingrained behavior often manifests itself by a child ‘looking' and ‘acting' normally but communicating nonverbally.This particular child cannot just ‘start' speaking.Treatment needs to center on methods to help the child ‘unlearn' the present mute behavior.
Posted On 2010-09-30 23:09:47
Debra Brooks Replied: I know the frustration, fear, isolation and exhaustion you may be feeling as a parent right now, but you are not alone. Many children go through phases of feeling unsure of themselves in certain environments. I know that the first thing you are probably thinking is that there is an issue with your child, but you must also consider that there may be an issue with the combination of your child AND the environment. Since you state that your child is a "chatter-box" when in your home, there is nothing wrong with her ability to communicate, and her silence is a choice she is making. I am not suggesting that anything is "wrong" at school, but there may be a level of self confidence that your child is not feeling when in this environment. Talk with your child. Give her a chance to voice her concerns, fears and anxieties. It is very important to be patient with her. Your anxiety adds to hers. Be supportive and reassuring, without judging her. When your child starts to feel more confident, she will be more inclined to "open up".
Posted On 2010-09-24 12:08:58
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: There are several possibilities here, though without knowing more about your family I'm not able to say which of these, if any, might apply. If she speaks freely with family members and your friends, then I agree that autism spectrum disorders are not likely. If she isn't depressed, and presumably the testing also showed that she doesn't have a significant anxiety disorder, then we begin to think there is something about age mates, especially in school, that form the context for this problem. If she is "very smart," and does well in school, it is possible that she feels very different from kids who are not as smart or who have trouble with their studies. She may think and feel more profoundly than the others, and they may even have been treating her as something separate from them, especially since she is now known as the kid who never talks. This could have developed into a power struggle that she finds she can win simply by not talking, but she may also be concerned that she will say something -- about things she is aware of -- that the other students will find goofy or weird. One possible approach here is to find other kids, in or out of school, who are bright like her and/or who share some interest of hers. There, she might feel more "normal" and less defensive. In just a descriptive sense, she has a form of selective mutism. This is usually accompanied by significant anxiety, so it may not be an actual diagnosis for her, but you might find this website helpful: . Finally, since she seems to be doing fine except for speaking in school, it might be helpful to both you and her to step back a bit and not risk losing your mind! You are right to be concerned about this, but it isn't a life-threatening situation, the problems it causes her are mild for now, and with a bit more relaxation on your part, you and she might find ways together to help her speak up in school. Give it a try!
Posted On 2010-09-23 18:43:42
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