Selective mutism is a childhood social communication disorder in which children consistently fail to speak in select situations, despite the ability to understand and to use language. Children with SM usually speak to family members at home, but do not speak at kindergarten or school. The speech patterns of each SM child vary along a continuum of severity – from children who speak to everyone outside school, and select peers in school, through children who fail to speak to everyone in school, peers and staff. Some will not speak to anyone outside their home, or to only certain family members inside their home, and a rare few do not speak to family members inside the home. Onset usually occurs between the ages of 4 to 8, and in rare cases it may continue until the teen years.
When left untreated – as is frequently the case with anxiety based disorders, where the patient causes little disruption to his surroundings, but great suffering to himself – SM can develop into a generalized anxiety disorder, or a social anxiety disorder. Therefore, early intervention is vital. In addition, with young children, early symptom removal enables the child to return to the normative developmental track, where he will see himself, and be seen by others as a regular child. This has a great impact on the child’s self image, confidence, social experience and development.