Without a voice

Selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that some people live with, can be difficult for others to understand


Kevin Murray

Drawing by Sophia Seyer

Airin Hall

This is going to be a tough one to write as this is something I don’t really talk about with anyone besides close friends but there is a small voice in my head telling me this is a good thing as it can bring more awareness to this topic. 

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in a social situation. Even though the name is “selective,” in these situations you would not have a choice of whether or not you can speak. This can typically be in places such as school, work, public spaces, or maybe somewhere familiar except you don’t recognize the people around you. Selective mutism can be diagnosed early in childhood and if left untreated can even affect you later on into adulthood. While in childhood it can affect you in ways that you are unable to speak in situations where you would typically have no choice but to speak, examples such as when the teacher would ask you a question in front of the class, or if you’re introduced to a large group of people. However, later on in life as an adult it can affect you greatly in things such as work and maybe during important times when you absolutely would need to speak. 

Selective mutism is not just “shyness” or being an introvert, it’s a genuine disorder that can affect your daily life and how you interact with the people around you. That however seems to be the association people have with it and that’s why It’s not fairly known or taken seriously, people just think that the said person might be really shy. The reason I am writing this article is to bring more attention to it and make sure that people know that it’s a serious thing that can happen to anyone.

Speaking from personal experience, this can be a really difficult thing to deal with, especially if you’re young and in school, since that is typically a place where you’re expected to use your voice. Sometimes when this has happened to me it was in the classroom. For example, one day I was in my drawing class, and we were doing ideas for a project where we would have to draw a piece based on lyrics to a song. For the most part I was quiet even though it was a requirement for us to speak up. However, I was just unable to speak even if I tried and there were only about one or two times that I actually spoke up and participated. When it finally was my turn to speak about my ideas for the project I just..couldn’t do it, even if I tried there was just no way I was going to be able to just let my voice out. For me this experience wasn’t a new one, but it did make me feel…somewhat guilty. Being in a room with a group of people all huddled around you, looking at you, waiting on you to start talking is what could’ve triggered it. This is what most experiences are like, that sudden feeling that your vocal cords are just gone and you loose your voice. 

Luckily, my teacher was familiar with my selective mutism, so she allowed me to text something on my phone and she would read it out loud to the class for me. 

This is something I want for all students who have selective mutism, not just the ones that are brave enough to tell someone themselves that they have it. We all deserve the same treatment as other students even if there are times where we will not be able to participate in classroom activities. There are ways we can maneuver around this so kids don’t have to just sit there silently while the rest of the class talks. 

A couple of ways that this can be done is by teachers allowing students to either write or type what they’re going to say and then having another student say it out loud. Or another way is this student using sign language and having an interpreter in the class to help out with what they’re trying to communicate. 

Doing these things can help students who might have undiagnosed selective mutism. It could help students like me feel more comfortable when it comes to communicating how you feel without actually having to use your voice. I’m really looking forward to the school considering this and being willing to do this for us

But until then, I guess I can keep on just telling my teachers and praying that they’ll allow me to show my own way of using my voice.