Selective Mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder. It is a condition whereby a child, who can speak perfectly well in front of family and friends at home, completely shuts down and cannot speak at all in public places. This can happen at school, or in any situation when out and about where they do not know the people or they feel uncomfortable. This is not the child’s fault, it is not that they refuse to speak it is because they literally are unable to speak. They in effect freeze completely.
This condition usually starts in a child’s early years, and is apparent when they begin nursery or school. It differs from shyness, where children can usually socially adapt. It is purely the setting that causes them anxiety and then the inability to speak. The child will learn what type of situations this tends to happen in, and then will try to purposely avoid them. They will be clingy and tend to be socially awkward. At home they can then be prone to temper tantrums and display difficult behaviour.
Selective Mutism is more common in girls than boys. Children with this tend to have other fears and social anxieties. They may also have additional difficulties, especially with speech and language.