Selective mutism refers to selective silence in a child who speaks freely in very familiar situations. Children who demonstrate this condition appear comfortable and talkative with close family members. However, whenever people other than the closest family members are present, the child is quiet and shy. Some children avoid eye contact and do not communicate in any form with others. They refrain from the use of gestures or changes in facial expression.

Children who are selectively mute show wide variations in their social actions. Some children enjoy contact with others and will play easily, but remain silent. Some have a close friend who often speaks for them by interpreting gestures. Others find all aspects of social situations uncomfortable and do not participate at all. Whatever form selective mutism takes, it can persist. There are children in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades who have never spoken in school. There are students in high school who have not uttered any or no more than a few words in a school setting. As you can imagine, the condition can have dramatically negative effects on social functioning.