It is Not a Choice

One assumption surrounding selective mutism is that individuals with this is choosing not to speak. This of course is definitely not the case. “Children and adults who struggle with SM do not find their mutism a choice.”

Back in the time selective mutism used to be referred to as aphasia voluntaria because children with this were regarded as individuals who refuses or chooses not to speak. It was later renamed to elective mutism, still emphasizing the fact these children were refusing to speak. “To reflect the involuntary nature of this disorder, the name was changed to selective mutism in 1994.”

“The change was made to emphasize that children with selective mutism are not choosing to be silent, but rather are too afraid to speak.”

The term selective though makes it still seem like it is a choice, when in fact it is not. This is why many people prefer to call it situational mutism instead.

“Despite its name, SM is not at all selective or controllable. The term selective refers to being unable to speak in certain situations when the person is able to speak comfortably in other situations (usually at home with parents or to a select few people who they are familiar with).”

“People with selective mutism literally can’t speak in certain settings. The disorder literally means being mute in selective situations.”

“Selective mutism is not a choice. The fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered in select social scenarios, and a person with SM will freeze, making it physically impossible for them to speak at the moment.”

“Their mutism is an involuntary response to the wave of anxiety that overcomes them.”

It may sometimes seem like they are making a choice not to speak especially since they can go from being fully verbal in one situation, to completely nonverbal in the next. But their silence is not a choice. They can not choose who they can or can’t speak to, or which situation they can or can’t speak in.

It is important to also note that an individual with selective mutism will not always look anxious when they are expected speak. They may only stare blankly when expected to speak, which is why their silence is also viewed as defiance, rudeness or even stubbornness sometimes. However this is definitely not the case either, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Although it might sometimes feel like the behaviour of children with selective mutism is wilful in nature, it is driven by anxiety.”

People with SM have so much that they want to say, but their anxiety often prevents them from speaking. They do desperately want to be able to speak freely with others, and to also express all of their thoughts. It is so important for others to understand that anxiety is the reason behind their mutism, and that they are not making a choice to not speak. Progress towards speaking is much more likely to happen when they feel understood by the people around them, and when pressure is decreased.

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