Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety


Multilingualism and Anxiety Among Youth With Selective Mutism: Context Matters

Friday, November 17
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Sapphire 410, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Child Anxiety | Hispanic Americans
Presentation Type: Symposium

Roughly 1% of children in the general U.S. population suffer from Selective Mutism (SM) (Bergman, Piacentini, & McCraknen, 2002), with emerging research suggesting multilingual children, immigrant children, and/or language minority youth may be at particularly elevated risk for SM (Elizur & Perednik, 2003; Nowakowski et al., 2009; Toppelberg et al., 2005). Children living in dual language households are faced with demands of acquiring and communicating in a second language (i.e., English) in outside settings such as school (Elizur et al., 2003, Toppelberg & Collins, 2010). Many have suggested that concerns related to English language abilities contribute to higher anxiety and a reticence to speak. However, despite 45 million individuals speaking Spanish in the United States, research documenting elevated rates of SM among language minority and/or multilingual youth has not examined SM among Hispanic children.

This study examined associations between multilingualism and anxiety in a sample of 47 children with SM ages 3-10 (71% female; 51% Hispanic), the majority living in South Florida (a U.S. region in which roughly 70% of individuals speak Spanish in the home). We used the ADIS to measure SM and the CBCL Anxiety Problems scale to measure youth anxiety. Results showed that, in the context of South Florida, monolingual children with SM actually exhibited greater levels of anxiety (M= 64.24, SD= 11.62) than multilingual children with SM (M= 58.06, SD= 7.28), F (46) = 3.99, p =.05). A similar pattern was found looking at the total number of languages spoken by the child’s parents, with monolingual parents of youth with SM rating higher child anxiety (M= 64.92, SD= 8.48) than multilingual parents of youth with SM (M= 57.29, SD= 8.51), F (41) = 4.75, p = .01).

 These findings suggest that relationships between multilingualism and anxiety among youth with SM are complicated. Results will be discussed with regard to cautions about making broad generalizations about the main effects of language and culture on SM, and underscores the important role of context in understanding the complex relationships between language minority status and SM. 

Jami Furr

Clinical Assistant Professor, Clinical Director, MINT Program
Florida International University Center for Children and Families


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Multilingualism and Anxiety Among Youth With Selective Mutism: Context Matters

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