Longevity logo

Selective Mutism or Shyness?

by Em 4 years ago in mental health / humanity

Do you have a psychological disorder? Or are you just shy?

Selective Mutism or Shyness?
Photo from The British Psychological Society (digest.bps.org.uk)
Selective mutism is a social anxiety disorder that causes a person normally capable of speech to be unable to speak in certain situations or around certain people. When it was first discovered in 1877, by German doctor, Kussmaul, it was called “Asphasia Voluntaria” and later in 1934 the name was changed to "elective mutism". In 1993, people thought the name gave the impression that people with the disorder were choosing not to speak so it was changed again in 1994 to selective mutism. Selective mutism affects mostly children but if not treated it can continue into adulthood. In most adults, it prevents them from leading normal social lives, getting jobs and makes doing everyday tasks such as grocery shopping difficult. Although it's unknown exactly how many people have it, the Selective Mutism Foundation states that the number is far more prevalent than some publications suggest.

The first symptoms of selective mutism occur at ages 1-3. Children may experience shyness, hiding so they won't have to speak, or a fear of people. The cause is unknown but some studies suggest that it's genetic. Traumatic events or abuse can cause someone to become temporarily mute but this isn't considered selective mutism. Treatment methods include medications including antidepressants and desensitizing the person and providing positive reinforcement to motivate them to speak. Using pressure, bribing, or punishment can be harmful and won't help the person.On the bright side, many people with selective mutism tend to have:

  • Above average intelligence
  • Creativity and a love for art or music
  • Empathy for other's thoughts and feelings
  • A strong sense of right and wrong

Some negative sides of the disorder besides lack of speech include:

  • Social anxiety, fear of social embarrassment
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Difficulty expressing feelings, even to family
  • Tendency to worry more
  • Sensitivity to crowds
The most popular case of selective mutism may be Raj Koothrappali (played by Kunal Nayyar) from The Big Bang Theory. He can't speak to women that aren't family due to fear of rejection. On the show drinking alcohol (not recommended) helped with his anxiety and allowed him to speak.

I was diagnosed in preschool and have had it since then. I surprisingly didn't have trouble making friends and they didn't seemed to mind that I only responded to them through nods and/or writing even though some really wanted to hear me speak. I started taking Zoloft in the 2nd grade and it worked but for some reason I stopped taking it and that was the last time my peers heard me talk. I started taking it again and seeing a psychologist over a year ago. I have made progress but I'm still not totally cured.

Sources: http://www.myoutofcontrolteen.com/DSM-IV-sm.html

mental healthhumanity
Read next: Best Running Shoes for Women

My hobbies are reading, traveling, and photography.

See all posts by Em