Shy Children/Selective Mutism and the School Setting
Gail Kervatt

    Selective mutism is a complex psychological disorder caused
    by anxiety. Average onset is 3.7 years of age. Generally,
    selective mutism is called shyness for several years until
    a child enters school and does not function verbally in
    school and most social situations outside of school.
    Parents and teachers become very concerned and seek further
    assistance and diagnosis. These children have the ability
    to speak and understand language, develop age appropriate
    skills, and function normally at home with most family
    members and are, therefore, often misdiagnosed. If this
    nonverbal behavior outside of the home lasts for a period
    of time, it becomes a learned pattern and is quite
    difficult to overcome, because the longer a child is
    silent, the more entrenched the behavior becomes. Most school personnel do not have the expertise or
    experience to deal with a child having this disorder which
    is caused by anxiety and avoidance. The numbers of children
    identified who are suffering with the disorder have risen
    sharply in the past few years.

    School interventions have proven to be difficult partially
    due to teacher and administrator lack of knowledge and
    materials, fear, and inexperience. Selectively mute
    children quickly learn to use avoidance techniques, as do
    their teachers, and to use the school environment to
    accommodate this debilitating condition. Thus,
    nonsupportive schools who avoid an intervention begin to do
    unjust harm to these children.

    It is evident that teachers who discover a selectively mute
    child in their classroom do want to help. However, it
    appears, they have a very difficult time finding research
    based strategies and a format that can be used in a
    sequential order within the school setting. They do exist.

    I hope that I have given you some needed information so
    that these children do not continue to suffer in silence.
    Gail Kervatt

The Silence Within

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