More than Shy

Selective Mutism may appear to seem similar as shyness. But there is a big difference between Selective Mutism and shyness.

What is Shyness?

Shyness is best described as a feeling of fear, or discomfort that can make a person feel uncomfortable, nervous and self conscious, etc, around people. It is seen as a an emotion, or personality trait, and not as a mental health disorder. Shyness can cause difficulties for some people, but it is usually not a cause for concern. It can be normal, and especially in new and unfamiliar situations. Shy individuals may not always be the first to volunteer to speak in front of others. But when they need to, they are able to do so.

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder characterised by a person’s inability to speak in certain social situations. It affects much more than just speech and can greatly interfere with a person’s daily life and impact their well-being. Selective Mutism is also strongly linked to Social Anxiety Disorder.

Selective Mutism is often mistaken for shyness. Unfortunately some may go years without receiving a correct diagnosis because they are seen as “just shy.” Many people, such as educators and professionals are not familiar with SM. Selective Mutism is much more than just shyness. The most common indicator is that a child may be chatty at home, but freeze when in specific situations, or around specific people. Shy children may need time to warm up to a new situation, but after some time they usually do. Those with Selective Mutism often don’t ‘just warm up’ to new situations.

Shyness is something that most children may outgrow, or overcome with time, but even those who do not, can learn to manage it. Selective Mutism is not something that you just outgrow. If it’s left untreated it can persist into adulthood, or lead to other mental health difficulties. While some children might eventually grow out of SM, they will likely endure years of suffering and miss out on age appropriate activities. Early support and treatment is crucial.

It is very important to be able to recognise the signs of Selective Mutism. If your child seems to be “extremely shy” and does not speak at all in certain social settings, it may be worth looking into SM. Sometimes it is not just shyness. If you think that your child, or yourself might be struggling with Selective Mutism, reach out to a professional.

This video from Child Mind Institute explains the differences between shyness and Selective Mutism well, and may be helpful to watch too.

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