I’m honored to share another voice of Selective Mutism. This is the third story in the (hopefully ongoing) series of personal stories of Selective Mutism. You can read Meagan’s story here and Leanne’s story here.
Before I share her childhood experience, I wanted to share her current experience and how she came to discover she was grappling with selective mutism as a child:
I only found out the clinical term for this condition when I was close to 50 yrs. of age, so I find this topic very interesting. What is interesting is that at about age 45 or so, I thought back on my childhood one evening using a mental “check list” of experiences I had from year to year, how my intense shyness affected me at school, with peers, etc., and my mind was flooded, and I mean flooded, with detailed memories of painful experiences at elementary school. I realized I felt helpless and quite hopeless in my isolation. An extreme sadness filled me and I haven’t been able to let it go for the past 7 years or so. I am not on any medications of any kind, work full-time, and have raised four children. I don’t want to carry this with me forever, but my strength is that I know I am not alone in this. Research is the key, I’m sure, and finding out about this condition hopefully will provide me (and others like me with selective mutism) with some answers.
Memories of Childhood
Earliest memory of frozen feeling in a Catholic kindergarten. Up on stage, I was told to recite aloud my lines. I could not. I was scolded and asked several times to read my lines, but I couldn’t do it. She treated me at that time as if I was being willful, but she knew that I was a very quiet child in my every day life. I could not do it, so the nun asked me to leave the stage. I don’t remember how I reacted to this at all.
First grade, I was lost in a large sea of kids during recess time. Overcrowded, cement area between the elementary school, the high school, and the convent. I stood against the walls watching the frenzied interaction. When the bell rang for everyone to fall in line, I wasn’t sure where to go so I stayed there in the school yard. A very tall nun towered over me asking me my name and I just looked at her and then looked at the ground. She kept asking me my name, and who my teacher was. A time later, a cousin of mine told her who I was, and I was dismissed and told to go inside to the classroom.
At a cousin’s birthday party I remember the kids running around in all directions–happy and LOUD–and, I, at some point, decided that hiding under the table I could tune out the noise and the frenzy until my parents picked me up. To this day, my cousin never lets me forget it!
Similar to many stories I’ve read about SM. Afraid I couldn’t be heard after raising my hand to use the restroom…and besides…we were required to approach the blackboard and write our names on the board each time we left to use the restroom–I ended up urinating in my chair to relieve the horrible pressure. I don’t know if anyone saw, but they must have. My voice was so faint, I knew she’d never hear me, and I couldn’t imagine having to ask permission when I had reached that point. This never happened after third grade, and to my knowledge that was the only time.
In fourth grade, I realized if I waited the 15 second or so after being asked a question the nun would eventually go on to the next child, so I would never answer the question even if I knew the answer. I was afraid of hearing my voice in answer to a question. I did not want to be laughed at if I hesitated. I could read at a very young age, so it was not a matter of language skills or comprehension.
Thankfully, taken out of Catholic school after a nun, who subsequently was let go from her position, pinched me on a regular basis in class (along with several others, I assure you!). I was grateful to go to public school as I had some neighborhood friends there. More diversity in the student body and a relaxed dress code.
In sixth grade, I had begged my parents to let me take lessons in school to play the flute. I was looking forward to it for a whole year. I was told that students who play woodwind instruments have it on these two days a week, etc., and that I would have to know when to get up from the regular classroom and head down to the auditorium to take lessons. The first day of lessons came, and I watched the minute hand on the clock. As the minutes went by, my anxiety built up, and then I was afraid if I went to my cubby to get my flute and my book I might realize that I had the wrong time or day (even though I had it written down on the inside of my binder). I didn’t ask for help and felt depressed after I realized that I was afraid to get up from my desk and walk across the classroom. What if other kids asked me what I was doing and I couldn’t answer them? So, I let the instrument stay where it was and I never did go to my lessons. I don’t know what I told my parents. My 6th grade teacher was a kind person and actually had one of the college girls (teacher assistants) work with me during class in my regular classroom. She seemed to understand quiet children and didn’t dismiss us or make us feel inadequate.
The only parties I attended were those of my relatives–I was too quiet to get chosen for anything on a social basis in school. It hurt, but I couldn’t understand that the expression on my face that others could see, but I could not, was probably one of indifference–even though I wasn’t indifferent! I just looked too timid or cautious.
I was still using the non answer as a way to make teachers pass me over as far as classroom participation was concerned. I thought my voice sounded too wispy or weak, and I couldn’t imagine answering. My school work sufferered for it, and I couldn’t make the connection between my fears and classroom participation. I was mocked by a couple of students who made my life miserable for a couple of years. High school was not much better. Although my grades were not bad for someone who did not actively participate, students did not see me as someone who was involved. I did not each lunch in the cafeteria but in the quadrangle or off site at my grandmother’s. I did not develop a “voice” until I was close to age 18.
Needless to say, I have many memories like these. Looking back at my photos, I looked like a normal girl with a slender build, long dark hair, but a serious expression. I could relax at home and be silly but never anywhere else. I was formal in my speech and still am (in the workplace) somewhat.
What made me very interested in finding out about SM is that I fit every single trait. I had never heard “Oh, she’s a bit shy, isn’t she?” I always heard people say, “I’ve never seen such a shy kid in my life!”
For more information about selective mutism please check out these links –
If anyone would care to submit a guest post regarding their selective mutism story or their child’s selective mutism story, please drop me (Casey) an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.