Childhood Story and Personal Account of Selective Mutism

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CinderashAutomaton
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01 Jul 2021, 4:38 am

Not sure why, I just felt like sharing this.

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My elementary school was a french immersion school (not allowed to talk in english at school) in a predominantly english community. My father is french Canadian so we had a decent bit of french upbringing before starting school, and my older brother had already been going to school there for a few years before I started so no problems we're really anticipated.

I don't really member too much about kindergarden and grade 1, but my parents have told me that I was actually almost kicked out of the school because they thought I couldn't speak french at all. Turns out, I just wasn't SPEAKING at all. My french was actually great. I was fluent (for a kid my age) and apparently had no trouble speaking with my father.

Thankfully my speechlessness didn't last, though I don't remember how that was solved. What I do remember is not having many friends, as one can imagine of a mute. I can also remember accidentally hurting my crush in a way that seemed malicious and being too paralyzed to apologize and explain myself. I remember that really crushing (pun unintended) me. I also never got to play with certain toys because I couldn't speak up and argue to get others to let me play. No toy cash-register for me :(

As I got older I started speaking more. I had a best friend who preferred making dinosaur noises rather than talking. I had some casual friends that I played tag with, but I was envious of those who talked a lot and were popular. I remember I was attracted to and wanted to talk with some girls but could never quite manage much.

Fast forward several years and I'm in grade 7. I progressed to the level of JUST being a shy kid, although by that point I was more than familiar and used to most of the kids in my class and had no issue mouthing off to my bullies. Anyway, the kindergarden teacher called me out of class one day and asked me if I could help teach a mute kid to talk. I remember being flabbergasted. Like, wtf, you know who you're talking to, right? How could I of all people help? That went way beyond the non-existent authority and expertise I had. But of course, I'm easily led by others when I'm unsure, so I just went with it.

I met the kid, who coincidentally had the same first name as me. Funny, I can still remember his face when he'd smile and nod with his mouth slightly open, and even his voice when he finally started talking. I can't remember everything I did to get him to talk, but I just kinda tried different things that seemed like low pressure options he could chose to respond to me, including non-vocal stuff. He had no problems with nodding yes and no so that was always an option. We read some kindergarden books together, and he just had to read along with me. I'd ask him yes/no questions about it, and if he understood everything. If he didn't, he'd point it out and I'd explain. I think I asked him if he knew how to pronounce certain words. I told him that I also had a lot of trouble speaking.

The breakthrough seemed to be when I told him he could whisper into my ear so no one else could hear him. He'd just speak single words, probably yes and no to start with. I never pressured him to speak. I'd ask him if he wanted to and if he said no then I accepted it happily and just keep on going. If he said yes, I'd let him back out of it if he wasn't feeling it.

Eventually he started speaking more than just single word answers. I think I remember the teacher let us play on the toy cash-register (YES!!) if he spoke without whispering straight to my ear. He even started reading full books to me, quietly though without whispering just to me.

Eventually my visits to the kindergarden class ended, I can't remember when or why exactly. I was sad. I liked helping out and teaching the kid.

At the end of the school year, I was called out of class again. I thought I was in trouble, but it was just the kindergarden teacher again. She told me about the mute kid. He was doing great. He was speaking with classmates, and even answering questions in class. He was still quiet and didn't talk as much as others but was still making progress. That made me really happy.

It wasn't until half a year ago when I regressed back to 100% mute that I learned about Selective Mutism and realized I absolutely had it, and so did the mute kid. Even as I grew up and became an adult it was still evident in my life. It was so obvious that even now I'm astounded how even after all the mental healthcare workers I've spoken with, none of them have made the connection.

I mean, I sort of understand. As an adult it mostly just made me come off as a little shy sometimes. But as the person dealing with it, I know that it's always been a struggle. My presentation of normality comes from all kinds of tricks and flat out brute-force will to talk when it's difficult and ignore my feelings or awkwardness I cause so I can get passed the hard parts and ease into the familiarity where I feel more comfortable talking more freely. Still, some situations are next to impossible for me, like cold-calling strangers, like clients, employers or service staff.

I'm not going to lie, that's what kind of destroyed my life. Not being able to do that as a junior engineer looking for a job, and not knowing why or how to get around the problem started me on a heavy downward spiral. I was so invested into that profession, especially since I excelled at it after having been a near failure all throughout elementary and high school. I had found my calling...and for reasons no one could explain or help with, I was paralyzed or at the very least incredibly distraught when tackling integral parts of it.

Now I finally know better. I'm going to have to find someone that can help make those calls for me to get me back on track in life. I have no idea how I'm going to manage that, but at least I know SOMETHING. A possibility. I can work with that.

It's just weird. Even after over 30 years of this life I still feel like it's just weird not being able to talk sometimes. I still vividly remember the feeling half a year ago, living with my mother and those feeling when I knew I needed to say things to her but couldn't. Sometimes I couldn't even talk to my dog. That was rough.

It's just weird. If I had to explain it, it's a combination of an overwhelming, unexplainable reluctance to talk, and as if you've got tape completely shutting your mouth closed...except that instead of covering your mouth it's on some part of your brain, somewhere before whatever system that controls your lungs, vocal chords and mouth, and after your conscious desire to speak.

Anyway, I don't really know why I'm writing this. Maybe just an impulse to talk about not being able to talk, or just reminiscing about childhood memories.

Have a good day y'all. *hugs*


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timf
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01 Jul 2021, 6:58 am

My two daughters had SM. It is definitely related to anxiety. Your work with the kid in Kindergarten shows how one can transition someone by reducing anxiety.

Since it has been decided that an industrial approach to mass education is to be followed, we should expect that there will be those who are not processed easily. The "minimal brain dysfunction of the 60s, ADD of the 70s, the ADHD of the 80s, the Aspergers of the 90s and 00s, and now autism all testify of the official view of children as defective if they do not fit the system.

I think this "professional view" is similar to saying all short people are defective.

This is why we chose to homeschool. Why would anyone put someone they love and depends on them in a mechanical system designed to produce compliant components for a mechanical world if there was an available alternative.



CinderashAutomaton
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01 Jul 2021, 11:36 am

Aye, anxiety is definitely a main component.

The reason I specifically wrote 'unexplainable' was because there's also something else behind the anxiety. I've gone through more than a few situations where anxiety wasn't the most significant factor, like with my dog. No one was around but my dog, and I certainly didn't feel anxious about him hearing me.

About the education industry...I mean, you're not wrong exactly. There certainly are plenty of those who maintain those views.

But I also know that that's not true for all involved. As mishandled as I was by many, there were also those who saw me and wanted to help but just didn't know enough to do so. And beyond that, I also understand that a lot of it is economic problems, both on the macro and micro level. Teachers can only do so much with their limited resources (especially time). Management also have their hands tied by those above and around them. Even well meaning policy makers face issues. They have to juggle resources amidst the grabbing hands of all kind of different interest groups. Not that I'm excusing the end product we have to deal with.

Society is complicated, and us humans even more-so.

Even with the difficulties, the education institution has it's own benefits. Not that I'm criticizing homeschooling, but my parents certainly weren't competent enough to provide a decent alternative. And I just know that I could have ended up healthy and professionally successful if I had access to the information I needed and the competent support to take care of the things I couldn't handle, which could have been done without changing my educational path. Of course, a perfectly tailored upbringing would have undoubtedly raised me to multiple PhD's and an appropriate career, but I know well enough that that's an unrealistic expectation.

Considering how bad things can get, I've learned to accept "doing your best" in combination with "good enough". Not all parents are appropriate homeschool teachers, nor can they afford one, nor do they possess the ability to avoid bad teachers. My main criticism of the education system is really just the bullying.


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Cuppacoffee
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01 Jul 2021, 4:21 pm

Hello Cinderash.

I think I had Selective Mutism for a good chunk of primary school, although i don't think it had a name back then. I ​went looking for stories of people who went through it when I first heard about it but found nothing, so it's great to hear your story.

I do remember why I stopped talking. I'd said "No!" while playing in the playground, but it came out in such a hoarse / bossy / offensive sounding way that I just couldn't say anything else. When we went back inside for the register and I could not respond, the teacher suggested I whisper in my friends ear (which I did). This was in year 1.

Then it just carried on. I'd whisper in the ear of a friend, but never speak out loud if I were anywhere near school. I would not speak at all to teachers or other unknown adults. School tried to help by occasionally letting me pick a friend and go to a small room to play games (with strange adult people watching). I enjoyed playing the games but had no desire to speak.

What got me talking eventually was a very militant teacher who randomly lost it with me one day. He went between shouting furiously / speaking in a quietly threatening manner / painstaking silence. I had every pair of eyes on me and was absolutely terrified. It was very humiliating at the time, and I felt there was no option other than to speak. He did a similar thing a few days later, and I spoke again, and from that point on I realised I might as well just keep speaking. This was during year 5.

I have wondered whether my silence during my younger years affected my conversational ability... And whether this in turn effected the way my life unfolded. I was considered bright but have never lived up to people's expectations.

Even now (late 30s) I am aware that I am not great at talking, although had I not mustered the courage to ask for bar work once upon a time I'd probably be even worse.

I hope you are able to find a way to follow your dreams.



CinderashAutomaton
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04 Jul 2021, 3:17 pm

Cuppacoffee wrote:
Hello Cinderash.
What got me talking eventually was a very militant teacher who randomly lost it with me one day. He went between shouting furiously / speaking in a quietly threatening manner / painstaking silence. I had every pair of eyes on me and was absolutely terrified. It was very humiliating at the time, and I felt there was no option other than to speak. He did a similar thing a few days later, and I spoke again, and from that point on I realised I might as well just keep speaking. This was during year 5.


This rings some bells! I'd had more than a few very strict teachers early on who I was terrified of. I don't know if he did the same with speaking tasks, but I distinctly remember my father being somewhat brutish when it came to doing certain things like using tools. And now that I think of it...I was enrolled in baseball very early and got yelled at decent bit for being hesitant or not putting in enough effort (also due to hesitation). I think bullies getting physical also got me to be more vocal.

Even though it seemingly worked, it wasn't really the most healthy of approaches. Probably gave me higher anxiety with new people, new tasks and when performing tasks while someone watches, and it most assuredly gave me the instinct to strike back hard at any perceived bullying. It didn't turn me violent and abusive or anything, but it does create a heck of a lot distracting mental noise under certain circumstances that drastically lowers my brain power and ability to act.

My silence most certainly did affect me. I feel like I didn't learn some social skills I should have and it takes a lot of work to make up for it, not to mention the loss of confidence. I especially feel it now that I'd gone several years as a hermit and I'm wanting to get back into things. But I think it's achievable, even after my set-back, to reach a level of social ease higher than that of people who haven't had to deal with something like Selective Mutism.

If it helps you any, the two things that have helped me the most is feeding my philosophy of "confidence through knowledge", and (ethical) male dating pick-up techniques. The pick-up techniques I learned are just the ethical stuff that can be learned through the otherwise typically scummy Pick-Up Artist culture, which are (surprisingly) just things that parents should be teaching their children about how to be good people, and some tips and tricks about how to be entertaining at no one's expense. That gave me enough knowledge to stop being indecisive and unsure about what to do in social situations, thereby giving me confidence by feeling like I knew what to do. And it's not as difficult as one might think. I learned that you didn't need to be perfect. 'Good enough' was more than sufficient for most people.

Thank you so much! I've long since abandoned the dreams I once had, but hearing your well-wishes puts some warmth back into my sense of hope.


_________________
Thank you deeply for sharing your experiences. I don't feel so alone anymore.