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Muteness or mutism (from Latin mutus, meaning "silent") is an inability to speak often caused by a speech disorder, hearing loss, or surgery. Someone who is mute may be so due to the unwillingness to speak in certain social situations.


Those who are physically mute may have problems with the parts of the human body required for human speech (the esophagus, vocal cords, lungs, mouth, or tongue, etc.).

Trauma or injury to the Broca's area of the brain can cause muteness.[1]


Selective mutism previously known as "elective mutism" is an anxiety disorder very common among young children, characterized by the inability to speak in certain situations. It should not to be confused with someone who is mute and cannot communicate due to physical disabilities. Selectively mute children are able to communicate in situations in which they feel comfortable. About 90% of children with this disorder have also been diagnosed with social anxiety. It is very common for symptoms to occur before the age of five and do not have a set time period. Not all children express the same symptoms. Some may stand motionless and freeze in specific social settings and have no communication whatsoever.[2]

Alalia is a disorder that refers to a delay in the development of speaking abilities in children. In severe cases, some children never learn how to speak. It is caused by illness of the child or the parents, the general disorders of the muscles, the shyness of the child or that the parents are close relatives.[3]

Anarthria is a severe form of dysarthria. The coordination of movements of the mouth and tongue or the conscious coordination of the lungs are damaged.[4]

Aphasia can rob all aspects of the speech and language.[5] It is a damage of the cerebral centres of the language.

Aphonia is the inability to produce any voice. In severe cases the patient loses phonation. It is caused by the injury, paralysis, illness of the vocal box.[3]

Also the conversion disorder can cause loss of the speaking ability.[6]

Feral children grow up out of the human society, so they cannot learn any language.[7]

Autistic children sometimes don't speak.[3] Some people with autism are also intellectually disabled.[8]

Most intellectually disabled children learn to speak, but in the severe cases they can't learn speech (IQ 20-25).[7][9] Children with Williams syndrome have good language skills with mean IQ 50. Children with Down syndrome often have impaired language and speech.[7][9]

Symptoms of selective mutism[edit]

  • The inability to maintain eye contact
  • Sensitive in loud crowded situations
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Clinginess
  • Stubbornness or aggressiveness when getting home from a stressful event

Hearing mutism is an obsolete term used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for specific language impairment.[10]

Akinetic mutism is a state in which the individual is unable to speak or move [11]


Some mute patients have adapted to their disability by using machines that vibrate their vocal cords, allowing them to speak. Oesophageal speech can give some speeking ability.[12] Others learn sign language[13]) to communicate.

Computers also facilitate communication, both with smart phones and the Internet. Many augmentative and alternative communication devices exist to allow people to communicate; these include "text-to-speech" devices and/or software programs, which turns typed text into electronic vocalizations, enabling the mute and the speech-impaired to "speak".

Another techniques of the augmentative and alternative communication include:

  • written notes
  • helper pages, books with letters, words, iconic and Bliss symbols and pictures[14] and their tangible vesions[15]

[16] [17] [18]

  • lip-reading by the communication partner
  • vocalization
  • speech recording and replaying
  • alternative pointers[4]


  • isolating and frustrating
  • severe problems with building new relationships[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ Dr. Bánki M Csaba: A beteg elme
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ Uta Fridh: Autizmus - A rejtély nyomában
  9. ^ a b Steven Pinker: A nyelvi ösztön
  10. ^ Page 6 in: Leonard, Laurence B. (1998). Children with specific language impairment. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-62136-3. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Dr. Erdélyi Andrea: Nézd a kezem!
  14. ^ The Hungarian Bliss Found
  15. ^ Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (1989). Tangible Symbol Systems: Symbolic communication for individuals with multisensory impairments. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5(4), 226-234.
  16. ^ Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (1996). Tangible Symbol Systems (DVD). Portland, OR: Oregon Health & Science University.
  17. ^ Rowland, C. & Schweigert, P. (2000a). Tangible symbols, tangible outcomes. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 16 (2), 61-78.
  18. ^ Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (2000b). :Tangible Symbol Systems (2nd Ed.). Portland, OR: Oregon Health & Science University.
  19. ^ Unterstützte Kommunikation ...aus Marion Meyer(pdf)