Purpose of review: Selective mutism is a disorder in which an individual fails to speak in certain social situations though speaks normally in other settings. Most commonly, this disorder initially manifests when children fail to speak in school. Selective mutism results in significant social and academic impairment in those affected by it. This review will summarize the current understanding of selective mutism with regard to diagnosis, epidemiology, cause, prognosis, and treatment.
Recent findings: Studies over the past 20 years have consistently demonstrated a strong relationship between selective mutism and anxiety, most notably social phobia. These findings have led to the recent reclassification of selective mutism as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. In addition to anxiety, several other factors have been implicated in the development of selective mutism, including communication delays and immigration/bilingualism, adding to the complexity of the disorder. In the past few years, several randomized studies have supported the efficacy of psychosocial interventions based on a graduated exposure to situations requiring verbal communication. Less data are available regarding the use of pharmacologic treatment, though there are some studies that suggest a potential benefit.
Summary: Selective mutism is a disorder that typically emerges in early childhood and is currently conceptualized as an anxiety disorder. The development of selective mutism appears to result from the interplay of a variety of genetic, temperamental, environmental, and developmental factors. Although little has been published about selective mutism in the general pediatric literature, pediatric clinicians are in a position to play an important role in the early diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating condition.