October is a special month for me, and no, it has nothing to do with Halloween! October is Selective Mutism awareness month. A little over three years ago, I didn’t even know it had an awareness month. I hadn’t even really been aware that there were other people with it! Logically, I should have known to be diagnosed with something, other people had to have it as well, but growing up I never knew anyone like myself so as far as I knew, I was the only one.
Selective Mutism is a highly misunderstood condition due to the lack of awareness about it, which is why every year I do what I can to help spread the word and the correct information about it. Especially in the United States, very few people know enough about it to help those that have it. There are many misconceptions about Selective Mutism, one of which is that it’s only a childhood disorder. There’s more awareness now that it can continue into adulthood, as it did for myself, and even occur later in life. Child psychologists are finally learning how to treat SM in children, however at least in the U.S., there are no adult psychologists that understand the condition.
One of the reasons why I do my best to participate in spreading awareness about my condition each year is due to my experiences with it. If there had been more awareness, some of my negative experiences with SM might not have happened. I also might not have Selective Mutism today if more had been known about it when I was a kid.
When I was growing up with Selective Mutism, it was believed that when someone with SM didn’t talk, it was a choice. Most people believed that I was always refusing to talk, when I couldn’t. A lot of this had to do with pressure. The problem is, pressure to talk makes it harder to do that. Trying to force someone with SM to speak whether it’s done through bribes or threats the result is usually negative as that only adds more pressure. I never did understand why teachers would think I would choose punishments or failure instead of answering them.
There were many times throughout my school years, when I would have done anything to be able to talk like everyone else. For instance, why would I have chosen to accept punishments for things I didn’t do if I could have said something? Like many kids who are different, I was bullied often. For some reason, a favorite bullying tactic was to get me in trouble for things I didn’t do. I clearly remember one time I had to stay indoors during recess writing over and over that I wouldn’t erase my name off my papers, when it had been the kid sitting in front of me that did it. I remember having to watch him do it, unable to say anything or do anything about it and just having to accept the punishment for it. Another time I got in trouble for writing my name on the wall of a bathroom stall. I never did understand how it was possible it could have been written in my handwriting when I hadn’t done it. I did know who did it, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
Group projects were always a challenge. Usually I didn’t bother trying to participate because I knew they wouldn’t even try to involve me anyway. The teachers never understood this and usually put me in groups with some of the same kids I was always being bullied by so of course I chose to stay at my desk instead of even physically joining the groups. One of the biggest problems with Selective Mutism is being unable to explain it to people because most teachers and therapists will not allow speaking through writing and not being able to speak out loud means having no way of communicating. I remember one particularly bad group project where I did my part of the project by ding the research and taking the notes I was required to, but they couldn’t read my writing so they decided to redo it all. It was a video project and they also didn’t allow me to be part of the video. Instead they told the teacher I didn’t do the work and had refused to be part of the video!
I only ever had one good group project and that was with a group that understood I work best by doing rather than talking. I was doing really well in math that year and when my group would get stuck on a problem, they knew they could just ask to see my work because I had usually solved the problem by the time they got to it, and my answers were usually right so for once in my life, I was actually able to really contribute something to a group even if my method of doing so wasn’t usually accepted by people. Usually, the group dynamics are simple. If you don’t talk, you don’t have anything to contribute. I never would have dreamed that I could be a valuable member in a group.
I’m going to stop for now, however I hope to continue writing about Selective Mutism and sharing my experiences throughout the month, both the positive and negative, to bring a better understanding to this extreme anxiety disorder.
For now, I’m going to end this by sharing a Selective Mutism awareness page on Facebook. This page was specifically created by a member of a group I’m in to publicly spread awareness of SM.
The link to the page is below: