Myth No. 3 – Children with Selective Mutism are just being Oppositional & Manipulative

For many decades, children with selective mutism were considered oppositional and defiant. In fact, selective mutism was called elective mutism for a very long time because children were regarded as purposefully refusing to speak.

We now know that selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that causes children to feel very afraid in social situations. A child with selective mutism may look angry or oppositional, however, these behaviours represent the child’s desire to avoid distressing and fearful situations.


IMG_0103When I read the quote  “children were regarded as purposefully refusing to speak”, I remember all too well thinking exactly that!

I honestly believed, when younger, Evelena was just being awkward and choosing, at times, not to talk.

With her non-stop talking, arguing with her siblings and whining at home, I could never understand why all of a sudden, in certain situations, she would just stop talking.  At the time I could see no logical reason for it.

I would get cross with her and repeatedly ask her why she wouldn’t speak.   Often telling her how embarrassing and rude it was, and if she kept it up I would ground her!  (I have probably only just got over the guilt of these words years later!).

However, I now realise that SM is NOT a refusal to speak it’s a real anxiety/fear that prevents them from being freely able to do so.

Evelena does NOT, on any occasion refuse to speak, she so wants to speak freely and easily like she does at home.

She is just sometimes unable to free the words from her throat, she says they get ‘stuck’.    It saddens me when I hear this as I know it’s a real battle she fights everyday

Evelena never looked, as it says in the above paragraph, angry or oppositional.   I found she would always look awkward & embarrassed or just plain uncomfortable and would often stare at me and hold eye contact like a rabbit caught in headlights.

You can’t see SM, it’s not a physical disability. Some people struggle with understanding SM because of this, with some often saying surely she can just speak, clearly she is choosing not to!

I wonder if the same people would approach someone in a wheelchair and ask them to try harder to get up and walk?

I always encourage and show my belief in her, knowing how hard she tries and how far she has already come.  I repeatedly say to her, remember when times get difficult  “always say to yourself, come on Evelena you can do this”.

She loves this saying, and has used it many times as she climbs that ladder one rung at a time.

Her next goal is, when she starts Secondary school in September, too start as she means to go on, as Evelena.

She doesn’t want to be known as the girl who doesn’t talk!

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