The 12 April 2005 issue of the New York Times carried a good story about selective mutism. Harriet Brown, who reported the story, avoided many of the traps that might befall people who tackle this topic. Her report is balanaced, sensible, sensitive, and accurate. She didn’t fall prey to the psychobabble that too often is associated with this disorder, resisted the temptation to extol only psychopharmacological or behavioral treatments, and (though she used cases for interest) avoided depending only on heart-tugging individual stories. She also gave me the chance to put in a plug for a fine book on this topic
Ollendick, T. H , & March, J. S. (Eds.). (2004). Phobic and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: A clinician’s guide to effective psychosocial and pharmacological interventions. London: Oxford University Press.
Brown’s story includes a cautionary for those of us concerned with the preparation of special education teachers. She reported that the mother of one of the children she features got some misinformation from a special educator.
[She] asked her sister, a special education teacher, what she thought…. Her sister mentioned something called selective mutism, but quickly said that couldn’t apply to Emily. “She told me, ‘Those children are emotionally disturbed and have been abused,’ ” Mrs. Stanley recalled.”
Brown surely doesn’t read these pages, but she made one of the points we’ve pushed here. It’s O.K. to say “emotionally disturbed.” Let’s get these kids services. In line with my concern about making sure that professionals and parents don’t ignore problems, Brown wrote “Pediatricians often tell parents not to worry, their children will outgrow the problem. That reassurance is well-meaning but misguided.”.