Awareness of selective mutism is low even among those who personally know a child or teen unable to speak in certain social settings.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – April 26, 2017 – 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.

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.
 
Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between January 24 and January 26, 2017 among 2,204 adults aged 18+. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
 
These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.
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The Harris Poll® #17, April 26, 2017
By Hannah Pollack, Research Analyst, The Harris Poll
 
About the Selective Mutism Association (SMA)
SMA, part of the Childhood Anxiety Network, at http://www.selectivemutism.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information, resources and support to those impacted by a child with the anxiety disorder known as Selective Mutism (SM).
 
About The Harris Poll®
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly.