“Selective Mutism Overview:
Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a child who is talkative at home is unable to speak in other settings, such as school. Parents often notice signs of SM when a child is 3 or 4 years old, and may spend a whole year in preschool without saying a word.
-Being freely verbal and even gregarious at home, but completely or mostly nonverbal at school or around strangers
-Seeming “paralyzed” with fear, or “shut down” when unable to speak
-Some use gestures, facial expressions, and nodding to get by; others have difficulty communicating even nonverbally…”
From the time she was a toddler, my (much younger) sister had difficulty speaking in certain situations. When she started kindergarten this trait showed more when she didn’t speak to any kids in her class.
In the beginning, we thought maybe she was just extremely shy and maybe would come around. She had a few friends outside of school, and she was your regular loud playful child at home. We as a family brushed it off as “a lot of children are shy, I was shy as a child and grew out of it, I’m sure she will too.”
Unfortunately, this “shyness” continued into the next school year, the year after that and around certain people outside of school. She continued to stay quiet at school, not making any school friends, and even being unresponsive to certain teachers.
The family doctor suggested extra curricular activities. Our mother put her in several programs/sports. Some she enjoyed, some she didn’t. But even if she followed instruction from coaches/instructors, she still remained silent to other teammates/fellow students. The doctor suggested she see the guidance counsellor at school. She has been seeing her on a regular basis. She has connected with her, speaks to her, but it hasn’t improved her overall issues with school.
This school year in particular, has been a nightmare. She is completely ridden with anxiety at the thought of going to school. Most mornings involve crying, tantrums, fake illnesses, fighting over breakfast & clothes.. sometimes starting the night before. She has missed more school days than she has in any previous years. To get her to school most mornings, she has to be escorted in by our mother, then mom has to leave her in the hands of the principal or guidance counsellor who try to help her go to class. Sometimes the principal meets her at the car because she refuses to get out. Her teacher, guidance counsellor & principal are all fully aware of her struggles and are working on an individualized education program for her. They already don’t expect her to speak in front of class or do presentations. The teacher is fully aware that he shouldn’t ask her a question in front of the class or put her on the spot in any way. She often communicates to him by writing down her questions.
She describes school as a really sad place for her. She said it “feels like she’s in a closet all day.” She cries about how she feels and doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does. She also feels really embarrassed about her mutism. She describes fear of the other kids staring at her, wondering why she doesn’t speak. She’s afraid of being taunted or surrounded by kids for being excused from speaking out loud. She’s afraid of them asking where she’s been when she’s absent.
She is on a wait list for the local children’s mental health program. She’s waiting for her first appt with her new pediatrician who will refer her to a child psychologist. She unfortunately lives in a small city without many resources. She’s seen different general doctors in the past. She went to therapy once but didn’t click with the therapist and didn’t feel comfortable to speak to him. There aren’t any doctors or therapists in her town that are familiar with SM. The closest option for a specialist somewhat close to this field is a 6.5 hour drive and the wait list is 18 months.
It has become a really stressful situation for the entire family. Her anxiety is causing her to act out at home in outbursts far worse than in the past. I’m being realistic with my mother. She knows that there is a high possibility she will have to be medicated. There is also a possibility there may be something else underlying, and she will most likely be tested for adhd/autism/anything else that may be causing these dramatic outbursts that are starting to worry us. In the past two weeks She’s gotten so upset in the morning about having to go to school on one occasion she punched her wall, and on another she flung her breakfast plate across the kitchen. She breaks down in heartbreaking, sobbing tears. Saying things like “why did god make me this way.”
I’m reaching out here, looking for advice from anyone who has been through what she’s going through. Reaching out to anyone with SM. I’m curious if there’s any form of help/treatment we haven’t already tried. So if you or a family member has been living with SM, what treatment did you find most effective to help live with SM? We have been reading resources online, joining facebook support groups, watching youtube videos by specialists. It’s just very frustrating sitting on wait lists and feeling like we aren’t receiving help fast enough.