Selective Mutism and Its Relations to Social Anxiety Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Ollendick, Thomas H.
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In current classification systems, selective mutism (SM) is included in the broad anxiety disorders category. Indeed, there is abundant evidence showing that anxiety, and social anxiety in particular, is a prominent feature of SM. In this article, we point out that autism spectrum problems in addition to anxiety problems are sometimes also implicated in SM. To build our case, we summarize evidence showing that SM, social anxiety disorder (SAD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are allied clinical conditions and share communalities in the realm of social difficulties. Following this, we address the role of a prototypical class of ASD symptoms, restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests (RRBIs), which are hypothesized to play a special role in the preservation and exacerbation of social difficulties. We then substantiate our point that SM is sometimes more than an anxiety disorder by addressing its special link with ASD in more detail. Finally, we close by noting that the possible involvement of ASD in SM has a number of consequences for clinical practice with regard to its classification, assessment, and treatment of children with SM and highlight a number of directions for future research.