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Selective Mutism in Teens

The power of speech is an incredibly important part of life. Integral to everything from sharing ideas at work to learning at school, speaking comfortably in social situations is a very valuable skill.

However, for some children and teens, the prospect of talking to others in certain situations is extremely challenging. Despite a strong knowledge of the English language and an ability to speak with no physical barriers, some adolescents are unable to talk normally for seemingly no medical reason.

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that causes a persistent failure to speak in some situations but not others. For many patients, the reality of this condition is frustrating, stressful, and overwhelming, leading to complications in school, at home, with friends, and even at work.

If your teen is affected by selective mutism and is using drugs or alcohol to cope, seeking appropriate help is critical. With help from Teen Treatment Center, we can address both drug abuse and co-occurring anxiety disorders, helping those in need to find a healthy path to recovery.

Selective Mutism

What Is Selective Mutism?

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that causes a temporary and situational inability to speak. There is nothing physically wrong with language comprehension or intellectual skills of patients; instead, affected individuals face a mental block of sorts that leads to an incapability to speak properly under specific circumstances.

Selective mutism is often most severe in social situations where speaking is expected, like in the classroom or with friends. The onset can be immediate or occur gradually over time as children sink further into silence. In most situations, children are still comfortable speaking in one-on-one cases, like at home with a parent, but are unable to speak to strangers, like a cashier at a store.

Conditions diagnosed as selective mutism are specific to being unable to talk due to social pressure. True speech disorders like stuttering, slurring, or lisps are not considered a factor in selective mutism and are not diagnosed as such. In order for a condition to be considered selective mutism, affected individuals must truly be unable to speak due to anxiety rather than a choosing not to speak for any reasaon.

Despite a seemingly minor set of symptoms, this condition, even in cases where mutism is extremely temporary, can create lasting problems. An inability to speak in school can significantly lessen the impact of education, leading to decreased motivation and reducing the likelihood of college attendance and high grades. It can also wreak havoc in a professional setting, standing in the way of communicating with customers, speaking to coworkers, and presenting progress in projects.

Selective mutism is a true psychological phenomenon that is identified in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It is not a choice or a selected action designed to garner attraction. In reality, the humiliation and devastation caused by being unable to speak can be crippling.

Observation drives diagnosis with no defined tests or exams necessary. Medical diagnosis often involves input from teachers, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, and pediatricians.

How Common Is Selective Mutism?

Selective MutismSelective mutism is not at all common. Even highly anxious children generally have no issues speaking and will be able to communicate in all circumstances. Studies indicate that approximately 1% of children are sufferers of selective mutism and that symptoms are more common in girls than in boys. Due to the uncommon nature of this condition, some parents believe their children are being intentionally problematic rather than suffering from a true anxiety disorder. As a consequence, many cases of selective mutism go untreated and thus are permitted to worsen, affecting relationships, education, and more.

Despite presentation in children of all ages, including teenagers and adolescents, selective mutism is most common before the age of 5.

The Causes of Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is extremely hard to overcome and can have lasting ramifications on personal, professional, and academic success. Despite this, the causes of selective mutism are largely unknown. There is no one trigger that promotes diagnosis, and children can fall victim to selective mutism at any age or period of time.

In general, however, most children suffering from selective mutism display many signs of anxiety disorders, including a scared nature, embarrassment with peers, a fear of failing, and other related symptoms. Anxiety is often at the root of a diagnosis, although how stress leads into selective mutism specifically isn't known.

There is no indication that selective mutism has any ties to abuse, trauma, or neglect.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Selective Mutism

As a young adult, struggling with selective mutism can be extremely overwhelming. Usually triggered by anxiety, the presence of selective mutism often causes additional anxiety and stress, throwing affected individuals into a vicious cycle. Those who are anxious feel increasing stress due to being unable to speak, making it even harder than ever to overcome this inability to communicate.

Some individuals may suffer from co-occurring issues, like Sensory Processing Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In some cases, these conditions can play off one another, worsening symptoms of one or both disorders. A diagnosis of selective mutism does not require a secondary condition, however.

Coping with selective mutism is very hard, especially for teens who do not disclose symptoms to their parents. Instead of working through anxiety, teens often look for quick fixes like drugs and alcohol. For many shy young adults, including those who do not suffer from selective mutism, alcohol and drugs can reduce inhibitions and make it easier to blend in socially, providing a compelling outlet.

Some teens try drugs or alcohol as a last resort and, after seeing improved results, begin to increase usage in order to try to feel normal again. Teens who discover they can speak normally when drunk or high may begin to use during school or other social situations, creating a dangerous habit that can be indicative of serious addiction.

Selective Mutism

Treatment for Selective Mutism

Treatment for selective mutism utilizes behavioral therapy, providing a safe, supportive atmosphere and positive reinforcement as children relearn how to speak successfully in uncomfortable situations. For younger children, therapists gradually approach conversations between patients and parents until they are able to join a conversation successfully.

Instead of containing treatment into one room, therapists often work with students in different locations and groups of people, guiding speech in situations where selective mutism tends to be strongest, like in groups of strangers. Known as "brave talking," this technique is designed to help those in need slowly assimilate back into peer groups.

Counselors may also work with patients to build self-esteem and confidence, helping youths to feel less embarrassed or self-conscious when speaking in groups. This can help address selective mutism at the cause as therapists work to show students that they are strong enough and competent enough to speak without fear.

As with all forms of therapy, treatment can be ongoing for as long as necessary until normal speaking habits are developed and strengthened once again.

How Inpatient Rehabilitation Can Help

For adolescents struggling to speak to teachers, classmates, friends, or even romantic partners, the anxiety and pain of selective mutism can be particularly overwhelming. In an inpatient setting, however, it's possible for teens to grow and heal on their own without judgment or stress from the outside world. Teens are free to attend therapy sessions in private, speak with peers suffering from similar issues, and learn healthy coping skills.

Inpatient rehabilitation effectively eliminates environmental stressors, urging teens to grow at an individual pace. When combined with rehabilitation for drug addiction, the right therapy program can facilitate relief from anxiety disorders while ensuring a commitment to sobriety for healthy, lasting results.

Compassionate Guidance

While Teen Treatment Center is not a resource for treating stand-alone anxiety disorders, our professionals know that stress and drug abuse often go hand in hand. For teens who are self-medicating with illicit substances and are having trouble overcoming the reality of conditions like selective mutism, help is here.

We are prepared to work with a wide range of co-occurring anxiety and behavioral health issues, helping to address drug abuse and addiction at the core. By identifying underlying problems, treating teens using customized therapeutic paths, and providing a safe atmosphere to pursue sobriety, we are able to help adolescents in a unique and highly effective manner. Please contact us today at (844) 319-5239 to speak to a member of our admissions team about what we can do for your family. All consultations are completely confidential.

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