Less Than 1 In 5 Adults Have Ever Heard Of Selective Mutism

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The FINANCIAL — Think about the children in your life. Some are silly, some are serious. Some are boisterous, while others are quiet. And what about those kids who seem exceptionally “shy” or those who behave in different ways across settings – they may be unable to speak in certain social situations but are able to talk comfortably in other settings? When you reflect on those kids, do you think about selective mutism?

According to the Selective Mutism Association (SMA), selective mutism is best understood as an anxiety disorder characterized by a child or adolescent’s inability to speak in one or more social settings (e.g., at school, in public places, with adults) despite being able to speak comfortably in other settings (e.g., at home with family). “Symptoms of selective mutism often present in early childhood once a child begins preschool or kindergarten. If a child speaks normally at home or when comfortable, but has persistent difficulties communicating after about a month of school (and is not a second language learner), parents and professionals should consider whether the child is displaying symptoms of selective mutism” said Lisa Kovac, SMA Executive Director.

Less than 1 in 5 U.S. adults (15%) have ever heard of selective mutism. This percentage increases to just over 3 in 10 when looking at adults who personally know a child or adolescent that fits SM’s criteria (32%).

These are some of the results of a January 2017 Harris Poll online survey conducted in partnership with The Selective Mutism Association (SMA) among 2,204 U.S. adults aged 18+ between January 24 and 26, 2017.

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Personal exposure

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults (17%) personally know a child or adolescent who is unable to speak in one or more social settings (e.g., at school, in public places, with adults) despite being able to speak comfortably in other settings (e.g., at home with family).  Of these individuals, only 32% have heard of selective mutism.

Younger adults, women, and those with children in their household are more likely to know someone who may have selective mutism.

Those who know someone who may have selective mutism are most likely to be a family member or acquaintance of the affected individual.  

Increased awareness

There are a few groups that exhibit increased awareness of selective mutism (compared to their respective counterparts), but even among these subgroups, only a minority have ever heard of selective mutism. 

Young adults aged 18-34 (25%) vs. older adults ages 35+ (7-15%).

Adults with children under 18 living in their home (19%) vs. those without (13%), as well as parents with children under 18 in their home (21%) vs. those without (12%).

LGBTQ individuals (26%) vs. not LGBTQ (14%).

SMA Executive Director Lisa Kovac added that by increasing awareness of the disorder, SMA also hopes to encourage more families to seek treatment. “Recovery from selective mutism becomes harder once it has a long history—so we need to treat it early. The earlier SM is treated, the better the treatment outcomes—so don’t wait to get help for the child in your life who needs it,” she said.

 

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