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(S)elektive mutism

What's it all about? The elective mutism (also known as selective mutism) is a mental dysfunction which, in most cases, starts around the fifth and the ninth age of living. People who suffer from elective mutism are able to talk, but they do it only with a specific social group (mostly with parents and close relatives); mostly their interaction with this group is above-average. Nevertheless, the elective mutism can't be explained with sympathy or antipathy towards a specific person, since it is emotionally determined. Recently, there have been discussions among scientists, whether or not the elective mutism is a subtype of the social phobia.

Who ' s concerned? There are no representative figures for Switzerland. Scientific articles talk about 2 to 5 children in a total of 10.000, whereas German-speaking literature suggests that 1 in a total of 1000 children suffers from elective mutism. One thing is sure, however: The amount of girls is twice as much as the amount of boys. Furthermore, a temporary hush of children towards adults can be observed frequently on the occasion of their entrance to school.

What are the possible reasons of the elective mutism? There is no evident, punctual trigger. Risk factors can be a delay of the language development, a shy or anxious personality, an inhibition to speak (even in the family) as well as bilingualism on the occasion of migration. Only in single cases, traumatic experiences of a mental type can play a decisive role (guarding of a family secret, child abuse etc.).

How can you react? As with other peculiar behaviours, it is supposed that an early treatment of a child can inhibit the detraction of its further development. For the purpose of clarification and healing, it is the best thing to contact a child or youth psychiatrist, or to resort to a school psychologist or a speech therapist. If possible, the whole family should be involved in that process. In most cases, the symptom of mutism disappears in youth age.

sad boySelf-help: In Germany, the association “Mutismus Selbsthilfe Deutschland”, which aims to introduce the dysfunction to a broad public, has existed for about three and a half years. Workshops are taking place on a regular base; besides, concerned people and family members are exchanging their experiences on the internet site www.mutismus.de. In Switzerland, currently there's no self-help group, but we are in the process of establishing one. Interested people can get in touch with us under the following address: into@mutismus.ch.

Further help: Centre of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of the University of Zurich , Tel. 043 499 26 26.

References: Boris Hartmann et al.: Gesichter des Schweigens (Faces of Silence), 2005, 53.90 Fr. – Nitza Katz-Bernstein: Selektiver Mutismus bei Kindern (Selective Mutism in Children), 2007, 42.70 Fr.

Literaturtipp: Boris Hartmann u.a.: Gesichter des Schweigens, 2005, 53.90 Fr. – Nitza Katz-Bernstein: Selektiver Mutismus bei Kindern, 2007, 42.70 Fr. (kat)