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From “The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health” (bold italics emphasis mine):


Mutism is a rare childhood condition characterized by a consistent failure to speak in situations where talking is expected.


In mutism, the child has the ability to converse normally and does so, for example, in the home, but consistently fails to speak in specific situations such as at school or with strangers. The condition is also called selective mutism, to differentiate it from children who are physically unable to speak. Experts believe that this selective problem is associated with anxiety and fear in social situations such as in school or in the company of adults. It is, therefore, often considered a type of social phobia. This is not a communication disorder because the affected children can converse normally in some situations. It is not a developmental disorder because their ability to talk, when they choose to do so, is appropriate for their age level. This problem has been linked to anxiety, and one of the major ways in which both children and adults attempt to cope with anxiety is by avoiding whatever provokes the anxiety.

Mutism is believed to arise from anxiety experienced in social situations where the child may be called upon to speak. Refusing to speak or speaking in a whisper spares the child from the possible humiliation or embarrassment of saying the “wrong” thing.

Read more on Mutism:

Mutism is a great example of Mind-Shame. Like other examples of unhealthytoxic learning, including ‘math anxiety‘ and ‘reading shame‘, mutism develops from and extends emotionally maladapted learning.


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3 Responses to MUTISM & MIND-SHAME

  1. neurodevelopment May 24, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    In the work that I have been doing for the past 12 years, I have found that the underlying cause of anxiety is the retention of the Moro Reflex. You may not yet be aware of the implications of this, so please read on. The Moro reflex is present pre-natally through about 3 months in normal development. There are many reasons that this stage of development may persist, but happens is that many systems in the body and brain do not mature and develop normally, including the nervous system. A person with a retained moro reflex frequently evokes the fight or flight response – and has constant anxiety.

    The best news is that anyone, any age, can do simple physical exercises taking only a couple minutes a day to make changes in the brain. These exercises replicate the movements from infancy. This is similar to making or breaking a habit, and may take 21 to 30 days to see more permanent results. As an educator of people with learning disabilities, this is by far the easiest, least expensive, and most powerful tool I have seen.

    If you find this interesting, please see a quick video about the Moro Reflex at

    Kathy Johnson, MS Ed

    • Learning-Activist May 24, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your work and perspective. In my own work I have found that somatic learning is foundational (for example, Keleman’s Formative Psychology) so the connection between a persisting Moro Reflex and anxiety is certainly understandable. However, I think your statement that “the underlying cause of anxiety is the retention of the Moro Reflex” is an over generalization. Fear is an affect. Feelings of losing support or falling can also be triggered socially-emotionally. Though for some, the Moro Reflex may indeed play a significant role in anxiety, for others, the vast majority of children in my view, the anxiety is a response to the anticipation of physical danger or, more often, shame. I realize that the persistence of the reflex implies changes to the threshold of anxiety. However, the persistence of ways of parenting and educating that illicit shame in relation to learning performance are profoundly more wide-spread.

      Having said the above, I think there are a number of movement/bodywork therapies that can be used to address developmentally maladaptive somatic learning. I will certainly share your technique and monitor your work. I thank you again for your comment.

      • neurodevelopment May 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

        Absolutely – I love your perspective. Once a child has reached a certain age, that anxiety is triggered by events, and a connection has been made in the brain between those events and the resulting response. I think that there should be a coordination of efforts to include the body and the mind when helping those with persistent anxiety and the resulting mutism. We have not even discussed the effect of diet, either. So many parts to this complicated animal. I am happy, though, to spread the word about the easy and inexpensive power of integrating the moro reflex. As one 65 year old “A” type lawyer wrote me after doing the exercises for a couple weeks – “It’s a miracle!!!!!!!!”

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