Most people don't think about how verbal they are during the day. If you can speak without any thought to how others perceive you, what their thinking, or if you sound like an idiot, I envy you.
When I was a child there was no medical term for what I felt when I was forced to speak. Most people did, and still would, call it shyness.
Selective Mutism (SM)
What I really had/have is a social anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism (SM). SM is an anxiety disorder that affects children and adolescents mostly, though adults may suffer from it as well. Despite being capable of speaking with people close to them (family, friends, etc...), it makes speaking with strangers such as doctors, teachers, cashiers, or anyone outside of the family unit very stressful. SM patients might experience feelings of inadequacy, difficulty maintaining eye contact, blank expressions, reluctance to smile, dislike change in routine, difficulty expressing feelings or needs, shyness, loner or withdrawn, sensitivity to noise, and moodiness.
They may also be mistaken for being rude or snobbish when someone tries to talk with them and the SM patient does not respond.
There are some positive traits of an SM person. They are usually very intelligent (not bragging on myself here), sensitive/empathetic, and creative.
It is also hereditary. My daughter has inherited SM. As a younger child she was very withdrawn with strangers. Even as a baby she did not want others touching her. She has always been quiet and reserved. It took three years of pre-school to prepare her for kindergarten. During that first year she did not speak to her teacher at all. I remember her first day she came home, hit her grandma, and told her she would hate us all for the rest of our lives if we made her go back to school. She got over that of course.
So what treatment can you do?
Have patience. The most important thing to know is that forcing a SM child to talk only sets them further backward. Neither should you be speaking for them. Where we use to live in Kentucky we liked to go to one particular Chinese restaurant once or twice a month. We'd usually have the same waiter. He would talk, touch, and cajole my daughter to try to get her to talk with him. This is something you should not do with a SM child. Invasion of space will often make the child turn within themselves. Remember this isn't just a simple case of shyness. It is an anxiety disorder. So forcing a child will make them withdraw further.
What you can do is give them every opportunity to socialize without the expectation. Pre-school was a good start for Sierra. However that wasn't enough. She was becoming more social at school but not in the general public. So we enrolled her in after school activities. That first year she did soccer. Then we moved on to dance where she excelled. Again, it took her some time before she opened up enough to really participate. Patience and time solves this as she grew more comfortable.
Just like myself, she is not and never will be a social butterfly. Making friends is always difficult. However with patience and perseverance she can now function in social settings.
If you think you or your child may have Selective Mutism, visit http://www.selectivemutism.org/