This communication disability is called selective mutism. It’s really an unfortunate term for the condition because the word “selective” sounds like a choice. It’s not a choice. There are times when she cannot force words to come out of her mouth.
I haven’t talked a lot about my daughter lately, and especially not about her mental health issues. I’m very careful about violating her privacy, especially since she reached the teen years. But this time, she came to me and asked me to write about this issue, and her experience.
“Most of the time,” she said, “It would be easier for me to just speak than it is to deal with people who get mad when I don’t talk to them. I don’t want to be mute.” Teachers, principals, even friends get angry with her when she doesn’t respond to them with spoken words.
Old friends she hadn’t seen for a while insist they know she can talk and get irritated with her silence, often even assuming that she is mad at them, or even that she thinks she’s too good to talk to them.
So, what is Selective Mutism?
Selective mutism is a rare disorder, a communication disability, affecting less than 1% of kids. It is related to anxiety disorders, and often co-occurs with autism and hyperlexia. There really isn’t a lot of information on this condition, but it is one in which an intense anxiety reaction causes a freeze response and prevents the individual from speaking aloud. Sometimes this situation can prevent communicating altogether, but more often sign language, gestures, and writing can be used to respond.
This becomes especially problematic when others become angry and demand a verbal response, which amps up the anxiety even more and makes the problem worse. Traumatizing someone for having anxiety wont reduce their anxiety.
How can I help?
Interacting with someone experiencing selective mutism can be very much like interacting with someone with a stutter. The most helpful thing you can do is to exercise patience. It can be frustrating, I know. It’s very difficult to remain calm while you’re waiting for a response, but the more demanding you are, the more frustration you demonstrate, the more you behave as though they’re being defiant, the worse the situation gets. Allow them to respond on their own terms and you’ll actually get more information than if you demand that they speak.
Pay attention to their non-verbal behavior.
If you think you understand but you’re not sure, you can ask. “I think you’re saying you want to go home. Is that right?” Then they can nod or shake their head in response. Based on that response, you can ask more questions.
If you have writing implements available, you can offer those. My daughter keeps a pad of sticky notes and a pen with her at all times. When people allow her to respond that way, they get the most complete and accurate response.
Share this story. The more people understand what selective mutism is, and how they can help (or at least not make the situation worse), the more it makes the world a little kinder and helps people living with this condition.
The simple act of being aware of selective mutism and understanding that this communication disability is not a choice, makes a difference, even if you do nothing else.
I love it when I discover something new and awesome in the Seattle area. Well, this time the discovery was precipitated by an invitation to a 6-year-old’s farm-themed birthday party at the location, but it works for me.
The Farrel-McWhirter Farm park is a Redmond city park that also happens to be a working farm.
Bunnies, goats, chickens, pigs, cows, horses, and ponies – All kinds of things to make 6-year-old girls squee.
Really, it’s the best kind of city park. You’d never know you were in city limits.
The 68 acre park includes a preschool, summer camp program, orienteering course, and of course, pony rides.
My daughter was particularly fond of this plywood cow with a water-filled rubber glove that demonstrates how milking a cow works.
And this magical tree, where she spent quite a bit of time pretending to be a baby eagle.
And, did I mention the pony rides? Because that’s pretty much all I’ve heard about for the past week.
We can’t wait to get back out there for another visit.
Earlier this week, we had a day full of adventure at the Seattle Children’s Museum, which is situated in the lower level of the Armory at the Seattle Center.
The museum allowed her to try on differents hats for different careers, such as Fire Fighter, or Bus Driver.
The global village showed a little bit about how some people live in a few different parts of the world such as Japan, the Philippines, and Ghana.
COG City was all about machines and mechanics and how things work.
With supplies and opportunity to build a few things on their own.
The optometry office was a big hit for our bespectacled girl. She loved having the opportunity to wear the optometrists jacket.
She loved getting a closer look at the equipment where she could explore and study it in a way that was not possible when she got her eyes checked at the real optometrists.
Daddy was a patient patient, and even tried on her glasses.
There was a model market where they could practice shopping for food and making healthy choices.
The scale was a big hit.
And while we know that all the world is a stage, especially for a 6-year-old, nothing compares to some uninterrupted time on a real stage with mom and dad (and others) in the audience.
And then there was a magical fantasy room, full of books, and fairies, and a happy little girl who really didn’t want to leave.
The Seattle Children’s Museum is designed for kids up to ten, but I think where it really shines is for the preschoolers. It’s a lovely place to spend the day with the little ones, especially the toddlers and up to 5 or 6, but I think many kids would outgrow it before they reach ten.
Who goes to Alaska in February? This is the time of year even Alaskans try to escape.
Well, my mom, for starters. And my brother. They’re both moving back to Alaska and decided to caravan together.
Last time I went to Alaska, it was in the middle of summer.
I took these photos on our last trip to Alaska. Mom was moving back up there that time as well, and Gem and I tagged along with her.
She was so little then.
This time, they are taking the ferry rather than driving the entire way through Canada, and they invited us along for the ride. The ferry leaves next weekend and it all hinges on whether Gem’s passport arrives in time.