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Reader Opinion: October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month

Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that causes children the inability to speak in social situations, most commonly in school. A child will speak normally at home, but at school they are overcome by anxiety and they cannot speak or make ...

Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that causes children the inability to speak in social situations, most commonly in school. A child will speak normally at home, but at school they are overcome by anxiety and they cannot speak or make eye contact to peers/teachers. This is more than a child being "shy." Most children that are shy will engage socially after the first month of school. However, children with SM do not outgrow their shyness without parent/teacher intervention.

Our daughter was diagnosed at 4 years old, even though she had been showing signs since she was 2 years old. She did not speak to anyone her entire first year of preschool and it took until the second half of her second year to begin saying one-word responses to her teacher. She never spoke to her peers throughout her first two years of school.

After we learned about SM we got to work on treatment right away-early intervention is key. The biggest hurdle in treating SM is treating the anxiety that goes along with it. A combination of anti-anxiety medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the best treatment for SM. CBT involves understanding what is causing the anxiety and doing exercises to change patterns of thinking so that the child can feel comfortable in situations that used to cause anxiety. We reward her behavior with brave tickets which she can cash in for ice cream and staying up late. By combining anti-anxiety medication and the CBT, she is now speaking to about 10 of her classmates, her grandparents that she was unable to speak to before, and she smiles for pictures with confidence.

To find resources and to get more information about signs/symptoms of SM as well as treatment options, go to www.selectivemustism.org .

Kelly Melhorn

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