Why an individual develops Selective Mutism and why it persists
Most individuals with Selective Mutism (SM) have a genetic predisposition to anxiety. Whether that manifests itself as separation anxiety, excessive tantrums and crying, moodiness and inflexibility, difficulty sleeping or extreme shyness, severe anxiety is often present.
Individuals with SM often have severely inhibited temperaments, as well. Studies show that individuals with inhibited temperaments are more prone to anxiety than those without. As a result, symptoms of Selective Mutism are most prevalent in social settings; like birthday parties, school, large and family gatherings. The more people present, the more inhibited the individual becomes.
Additionally, approximately 30% of individuals with SM have subtle speech and language abnormalities – such as language delays. Our research shows that as children age and continue to remain mute, their ability to express themselves becomes increasingly compromised. This leads to an acquired expressive language disorder, primarily in narrative speech – like explaining what a TV show is about, or how school was that day. Individuals become inept in in the typical responding-and-initiating of a conversation, especially in an overwhelming social environment like school.
Some individuals with SM may have subtle learning disabilities, too. This includes auditory processing disorders. Many come from bilingual or multilingual families that have spent time in a foreign country while an individual was in their formative language development years (2-4-years old). These children are usually innately temperamentally inhibited but the additional stress and insecurity of having to learn another language can lead to increased anxiety levels and, in turn, mutism.