The 3 differences between selective mutism and shyness
A summary of the differences between shyness and selective mutism, so as not to confuse them.
There are children who are more sociable and others who are more shy. As it happens in adulthood, boys and girls have very varied personality traits, and this is noticeable when we see how they behave at school.
Shyness is not a problem, but selective mutism is, a disorder that sometimes goes unnoticed and it is thought that it is simply that the child is a little introverted, that he or she is going through a phase and will grow out of it. But rarely the disorder disappears spontaneously.
We can find several differences between selective mutism and shynesswhich we will explore in more depth below along with a review of what this anxiety disorder is.
Keys to distinguish between selective mutism and shyness
As it happens in adulthood, in childhood we can find individual differences in terms of personality.. There are children who are more open, extroverted, who like to talk with other children and also with adults.
But we also find children who are just the opposite, who hardly say a word because they are so shy and reserved and prefer to play alone or in the company of children with whom they have confidence. As long as it is within the normal range, introverted children are nothing to worry about.
However, there are situations where something should be done. Some children have serious difficulties communicating or interacting with others that are a real problem because they cannot live a normal life or develop fully. or develop to their full potential. If these difficulties are very great, it is then that we should consider the possibility of a problem, a possible childhood disorder.
Many children are withdrawn in an unfamiliar situation, in an unfamiliar environment or in front of a new adult. Some of them may even try to hide behind their parents and remain silent, even though they know how to speak.
This behavior may simply mean that the child is a bit shy, but it may also be a symptom of selective mutism, a condition that needs to be properly addressed.
What do we understand by normal shyness?
Before going into detail regarding the differences between selective mutism and shyness, it is necessary to define both concepts, making it clear that shyness is not a psychopathology..
This is a personality trait, typical of introverted people, which is manifested by a tendency to be withdrawn in social situations with people with whom one does not have much confidence. Shy people often try to avoid interaction with strangers and are not the ones who usually take the initiative in conversations, especially with someone new.
However, this changes somewhat when they are in an environment that is familiar to them, with people they already know and with whom they feel comfortable talking. Shyness is most evident and noticeable during the first few interactions, and tends to decrease as the person gains confidence in a given situation. in a given situation. Introversion is part of their personality, but security in the face of something they already know allows them 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 self-conscious toward the unknown. Early experiences modulate this temperamental disposition, making introverted traits more pronounced or, on the contrary, softening them.
Although it is true that extraversion is culturally preferred over introversion, shyness and other introverted traits should not be thought of as pathological. Shyness is not a mental problem, although it is true that depending on the social context and the area of the person's life, being shy can bring certain difficulties, preventing him from developing his personality in a more positive way.preventing him/her from fully developing his/her potential.
What is selective mutism?
Selective mutism is a psychological disorder, specifically belonging to anxiety disorders.. It is typical of childhood and adolescence, although there are also some extremely rare cases in adulthood.
Already in childhood it is considered a rare condition and it is estimated that between 0.9% and 2.2% of children suffer from it. But, in spite of being very rare, its consequences in the life of the affected person are in the form of serious limitations in their daily life.
The diagnostic criteria of selective mutism in the DSM-5 are the following:
- Difficulties and inhibition in speaking in specific social situations, despite speaking in other circumstances. For example, being able to speak at home, but not at school.
- Interference is observed in educational, occupational or social settings.
- The minimum duration of the problem must be at least 1 month.
- This alteration is not attributed to unfamiliarity or discomfort with the language.
- It is not explained by the presence of another type of fluency disorder, part of an autism spectrum disorder, psychotic or schizophrenia.
The main problem that selective mutism brings with it is the inability to speak in social situations in which he/she is expected to interact. the inability to speak in social situations in which he/she is expected to interact in one way or another.. The child remains silent, little expressive and with his eyes lowered in the presence of certain individuals or when he is immersed in an unfamiliar social situation. On the contrary, in other situations where he/she feels safe, he/she can behave normally. Thus, it may happen that a child does not speak at all at school but does at home.
Normally, the situations that trigger selective mutism are those that are perceived as threatening. That is, the child remains mute in situations where he/she fears being judged, evaluated and criticized, feeling a very high degree of anxiety while going through the unfavorable social situation and that causes him/her not to articulate any words.
There are several factors that have been attributed to cause selective mutism. Let us see what they are.
We find antecedents of anxiety, shyness and/or social phobia in the family.. The child's temperament also plays a role. As well as their level of social inhibition, shyness and dependence. Additionally, the influence of traumatic situations in the first years of age has been found.
2. Parenting style
The family is the reference model in terms of communication and interaction with others.. It has been found 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 family history of anxiety disorders. if there is a family history of anxiety disorders..
The child is excessively self-conscious in situations where he/she does not feel comfortable at all or suffers a lot of stress, either because the situation is very new or because he/she does not have a positive relationship with other people.
It has been seen that some cases of selective mutism are the result of bilingualism.. That is to say, the child may find the new language difficult, which causes him/her a lot of anxiety and far from practicing it, he/she prefers to keep quiet.
What are the differences between shyness and selective mutism?
Based on how we have described them, we can see that shyness and selective mutism share the insecurity of the individual when he/she finds him/herself in a situation that he/she does not know, and that awakens a certain degree of discomfort and fear. However, we can identify important differences between them.
Degree of speech inhibition
A shy person usually remains silent in unfamiliar social situations, but is still able to speak if necessary..
On the other hand, those who present selective mutism are totally inhibited when they speak, they cannot express themselves at all.
2. Stability over time
Shyness is typical of the first interactions with unfamiliar people and environments, but tends to reduce as the person becomes more confident.
On the other hand, selective mutism is the result of a high level of discomfort and anxiety in certain situations.These problems do not soften with the passage of time and the inability to speak in these situations does not fade away.
The level of anxiety experienced by people with selective mutism is much higher than in the case of shyness, besides not involving the same type of consequences or degree of severity. Children, adolescents and adults with selective mutism may have a poor school, work, social and personal performance, notoriously affecting their personal development.affecting notoriously 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 subject's life, but not in the face of the same situations. That is, shy people tend to be shy forever, but this shyness is expressed with greater intensity during the first interactions or in a new social situation.
As these people become more familiar with such contexts, they will become more open and sociable..... As we grow up, we become a little more extraverted, even though we are still shy people.
But this is not what happens to selective mutism. If it is not detected early and treated, the disorder will suppose an important limitation in the patient's life. As we said, it is an anxiety disorder that brings with it the total inability to speak in certain situations, which makes personal development and growth impossible. For this reason, selective mutism requires a deep, specialized and complete therapeutic approach..
Although it is true that there are cases, it is unlikely that a child overcomes selective mutism spontaneously and, in case of achieving it, 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 the impact of the disorder or downplay its importance.
The most advisable thing to do is to consult a professionalwho will diagnose the disorder in case there is one and will establish a specific individualized treatment to prevent the disorder from becoming chronic.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)