Gautam could be victim of a condition known as selective mutism, which is characterised by a consistent failure to speak in specific social situations in which there is an expectation for speaking. Children with selective mutism have the ability to both speak and understand language, but fail to use this ability because of social anxiety. Most children with selective mutism function normally in other areas of their lives. Gautam could be one of them. Read on to know more about it
"Basically, selective mutism is a type of social phobia, where a child is unable to speak in specific situations. The underlining cause for this condition is anxiety," says Dr Rajiv Chhabra, consultant Pediatric. Children with selective mutism do not speak in many social settings, particularly in school, even though they may use normal speech and language at home. These children may avoid active participation in non-verbal classroom activities, and appear anxious or nervous in various situations. Selective mutism is most common in the first two years of school, and is rare beyond that.
Selective mutism is a difficult condition to treat. It is sooner the better to treat it. A common treatment for selective mutism is the use of behaviour management programs. "Some therapies like stimulus fading, desensitisation, positive reinforcement and shaping help in treating the child. In stimulus fading technique, the child is made to sit in a relaxed environment with someone whom he/she can talk freely, and then gradually introduce a new person into the room.
In desensitisation, the child is encouraged to speak in front of group and positive reinforcement involves giving child positive rewards in the form of praise, treats, privileges, gifts etc. Shaping is the use a structured approach to reinforce all efforts by the child to communicate, (e.g., gestures, mouthing or whispering) until he achieves audible (loud enough) speech," explains Rajiv Chhabra. In certain cases giving anti-depressants to child can help him to relieve his anxiety.
"Some of the symptoms of selective mutism are -child may be withdrawn and exceptionally shy in school and generally do not speak to teachers or classmates. The child may use nonverbal communication to express needs (nods head, points). Also, fidgeting, avoiding eye to eye contact, lack of movement or lack of expression when in fear in certain situations," reveals Dr Rajiv Chhabra, consultant Pediatric. However, the child may speak easily in certain familiar situations (e.g., at home or with family members), but not otherwise.