Belle* is six years old. Like many children, she is a playful and often boisterous child at home with her family. Unlike many children, she has an anxiety disorder which renders her speechless and often physically frozen in specific situations such as school or when she is out with her family.
This affects her ability to join class activities and make friends at school. Other typical childhood experiences, such as attending birthday parties or joining in after-school activities, prove to be challenging for her.
Belle has selective mutism, which affects about one in 140 children under the age of eight years.
Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder characterised by a consistent pattern of silence in specific social situations where speech is expected (for example, at school or work) while the person is able to speak comfortably in other situations (such as at home with close family).
To receive a diagnosis, this pattern must persist for over a month and cannot be explained by another communication or psychiatric condition. This lack of speech affects the person’s education, friendships and work.
Selective mutism usually starts between two to five years. Although the condition becomes less common in adolescence and adulthood, if left untreated, it has a significant effect on the person’s mental health, wellbeing and life opportunities as an adult.
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