Selective Mutism refers to selective silence in a child who speaks freely in very familiar situations. Children who demonstrate this condition appear comfortable and talkative with close family members. However, whenever people other than the closest family members are present, the child is often quiet and withdrawn. Some children avoid eye contact and do not communicate in any form with others; they refrain from the use of gestures or changes in facial expression. Research shows that most children with Selective Mutism were anxious in social situations from an early age.
At this time, researchers believe that most Selective Mutism is a form of Social Phobia, an anxiety disorder based on worries about how others will react to you. Recent research shows that Selective Mutism can be linked to communication disorders, such as Expressive Language Disorder, and mild oppositional behaviors. However, this is only true for a subset of individuals who have been diagnosed with Selective Mutism.
The first step to getting help is getting a comprehensive evaluation of emotional and behavioral difficulties in order to see if a diagnosis of Selective Mutism is warranted. Research has shown that one of the most promising treatments for Selective Mutism is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which focuses on systematically addressing the child's avoidance of speaking through behavior management techniques, role playing, and the use of video. Additional work is done with parents and teachers in order to teach behavioral techniques to increase the likelihood of a child speaking in public. Additionally, medication is often effective.
Our Clinical Services
The NYU Child Study Center's Selective Mutism Program offers specialized assessment and treatment of Selective Mutism and other anxiety disorders. In addition, clinicians in this program provide consultation to schools and therapists in the community working with children who have a fear of speaking in public.
The Selective Mutism Program is currently helmed by Richard Gallagher, PhD, who has over 25 years of experience diagnosing and treating this disorder. By combining clinical expertise with empirical study of causes and effective treatments for Selective Mutism, the program offers state-of-the-art treatment for children who have difficulty speaking in public and need help finding their voice.
We also offer a variety of ways to provide treatment that are used to enhance regularly-scheduled treatment or take the place of regularly scheduled meetings when those are not possible. The alternatives offer concentrated treatment for extended sessions. Learn more about Camp Courage here.
For more information, please contact an intake coordinator at (646) 754-5000 or email us at services@AboutOurKids.org.
Richard Gallagher, PhD, Clinical Coordinator