There are more sociable children and others more timid. As in adulthood, boys and girls have a wide variety of personality traits, and this is noticeable when they see how they behave in school.
Shyness is not a problem, but it is selective mutism, a disorder that sometimes goes unnoticed and is thought to be just that the boy or girl is a bit introverted, going through a phase and what ‘it’s going to happen already. But rarely, the disorder goes away spontaneously.
We can find several differences between selective mutism and shyness, which we’ll explore further with a review of what this anxiety disorder is.
The keys to distinguishing selective mutism from shyness
As in adulthood, in childhood we can find individual differences in personality. There are more open, outgoing boys and girls who like to talk to other boys and also to adults.
But we also find boys and girls who are just the opposite, who barely articulate a word of what they are shy and reserved and prefer to play alone or in the company of children they trust. As long as this is within the normal range, introverted children are not to be feared.
However, there are some situations where something needs to be done. Some children have serious difficulties communicating or relating to others, which is a real problem because they cannot lead normal lives. nor develop fully. If these difficulties are very great, that’s when you have to consider the possibility that there is a problem, a possible childhood disorder.
Many children are reprimanded in an unfamiliar situation, in an unfamiliar environment, or in front of a new adult. Some may even try to hide behind their parents and remain silent, even if they can speak.
This behavior can mean that the child is just a little shy, but it can also be a symptom of Selective Mutism, an infant-juvenile disease that needs to be properly treated.
What do we mean by normal shyness?
Before going into the details of the differences between selective mutism and shyness, it is necessary to define the two concepts, specifying that shyness is not a psychopathology.
It is a personality trait, typical of introverted people, that manifests itself as a tendency to be reprimanded in social situations with people with whom one does not have much trust. Shy people often try to avoid interactions with strangers and are usually not the ones to initiate conversations, especially in front of a new person.
However, that changes a bit when they are in an environment they are familiar with, with people they already know and with whom they feel comfortable talking. Shyness is more obvious and noticeable during the first interactions, and tends to decrease as the person gains self-confidence. in a specific situation. Introversion is part of who you are, but being safe in the face of something you already know allows you to be more open.
Introverted traits can be identified early in infants. Some newborns are more open to exploring the environment, while others are more timid of the unknown. The first experiences modulate this capricious disposition, increasing or, on the contrary, softening introverted features.
While it is true that extroversion is culturally preferred over introversion, one should not think that shyness and other introverted traits are pathological. Shyness is not a mental problem, although it is true that depending on the social context and the area of a person’s life being shy can lead to certain difficulties., preventing it from fully developing its potential.
What is selective mutism?
Selective mutism is a psychological disorder, belonging specifically to anxiety disorders.. It is typical of childhood and adolescence, although there are also extremely rare cases in adulthood.
Already in childhood, it is considered a less common disease and it is estimated that between 0.9% and 2.2% of children suffer from it. But, although very rare, its consequences in the life of the affected person translate into serious limitations in their daily life.
The diagnostic criteria for selective mutism in DSM-5 are as follows:
- Difficulty and inhibition in speaking in specific social situations, despite speaking in other circumstances. For example, being able to talk at home, but not at school.
- There is interference in the educational, professional or social field.
- The minimum duration of the problem must be at least 1 month.
- This alteration is not attributed to ignorance or discomfort of the tongue.
- It is not explained by the presence of another type of fluidity disorder, part of an autism spectrum disorder, psychotic or schizophrenic.
The main problem with selective mutism is the inability to speak in social situations in which one is expected to interact in some way. The child remains silent, expressionless and despises the presence of certain individuals or when he is plunged into an unknown social situation. On the contrary, in other situations where you feel safe, it can develop as normal. In this way, it may happen that a child does not speak at all at school but at home.
Typically, the situations that activate selective mutism are those that are perceived to be threatening. That is, the child remains silent in situations where he fears being judged, evaluated and criticized, feeling a very high degree of anxiety as he goes through the unfavorable social situation and this prevents him to articulate a word.
Several factors have been attributed to the cause of selective mutism. Let’s see what they are.
There is a history of anxiety, shyness and / or social phobia in the family. In addition, it influences the temperament of the child. As well as the level of social inhibition, shyness and dependence. In addition, the influence of traumatic situations was found in the early years.
2. Parenting style
The family is the reference model in terms of communication and interaction with others. We have seen that there is a higher prevalence of selective mutism in families whose parents exhibit overprotective and controlling behaviors.
A child is more likely to have selective mutism if there is a history of anxiety disorders in the family.
The child is too shy in situations where he does not feel at all comfortable or suffers a lot of stress, either because the situation is very new or because he does not have a positive relationship with the children. others.
We saw that some cases of selective mutism are a product of bilingualism. That is, the new language can be difficult for the child, which causes him a lot of anxiety and far from practicing it, he prefers to remain silent.
What are the differences between shyness and selective mutism?
From the way we have described them, it can be seen that shyness and selective mutism share the insecurity of the individual in finding himself in a situation which he does not know, and which arouses a certain degree of unease and of fear. However, we can identify some important differences between them.
1. Degree of speech inhibition
A shy person is often silent in unfamiliar social situations, but is still able to speak when necessary..
On the other hand, those with selective mutism find that if they speak they are totally inhibited, they cannot speak at all.
2. Stability over time
Shyness is typical of early interactions with people and environments unknown, but tends to decrease as the person gains confidence.
However, selective mutism is the product of high discomfort and anxiety in certain situations, problems that do not subside over time and the inability to speak in these situations does not subside.
3. Level of anxiety
The level of anxiety experienced by people with selective mutism is much higher than in the case of shyness, besides not having the same kind of consequences or the same degree of severity. Children, adolescents and adults with selective mutism can have poor academic, professional, social and personal performancesignificantly affecting their quality of life and self-esteem.
The importance of early detection and treatment
Shyness, as a character trait, tends to remain stable throughout the life of the subject, but not in the same situations. That is, people who are shy tend to be shy forever, but this shyness is expressed more intensely during the first interactions or in a new social situation.
As these people become more familiar with these contexts, they will become more open and sociable.. As we get older we become a little more outgoing, even though we are still shy people.
But that is not what happens with selective mutism. If not detected early and treated, the disorder will severely limit the patient’s life. As we have said, it is an anxiety disorder that involves the complete inability to speak in certain situations, which hinders personal development and growth. For that, selective mutism requires an in-depth, specialized and comprehensive therapeutic approach.
While it is true that there are cases, it is unlikely that a child will overcome selective mutism spontaneously, and if it does, it would happen after years and years of great emotional suffering. For this reason, whether we are parents, siblings, or teachers of a child with a possible case of selective mutism, we should not underestimate or underestimate the impact of the disorder.
It is best to consult a professional, who will diagnose the disorder if necessary and establish specific individualized treatment to prevent the disorder from becoming chronic.
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