“Angelou had selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that causes a child to not speak due to physical and psychological trauma they endured.”
I saw this on a post on Instagram, and while I think it’s great to see posts on selective mutism and others who has experienced it, I was a bit annoyed by this. Selective mutism is not caused by trauma. Selective mutism is unfortunately very misunderstood and there are also many myths surrounding it. This is mostly because there are many who still have never heard of it, and so there are many misconceptions about it instead. Posts like these doesn’t help very much either, especially for those who have never heard of selective mutism. Others will read information like this and become misinformed by it.
“Studies have shown no evidence that the cause of Selective Mutism is related to abuse, neglect or trauma.” “The majority of children with Selective Mutism have a genetic predisposition to anxiety. In other words, they have inherited a tendency to be anxious from one or more family members.”
A person can become mute or stop talking because of a traumatic event or situation, but it is usually not due to selective mutism in this case. This form of mutism is sometimes known as traumatic mutism.
“Notably, selective mutism is different from mutism caused by trauma. In traumatic mutism, a child that could previously speak usually stops speaking altogether after the event. In contrast, selective mutism only happens in specific settings, and is unrelated to trauma.” It is important to be able to distinguish between these two.
This Instagram post that I saw was about Maya Angelou. I have seen and read before that she suffered from selective mutism. Maya went through a traumatic experience when she was around 7 or 8 years old.
“As a child, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. While the boyfriend was found guilty, he was jailed for just one day. Four days later, he was murdered, with the theory that Angelou’s uncles did so. As a result, Angelou became mute for almost five years.” Maya stopped talking to anyone except her brother Bailey.
“I was a volunteer mute. I had voice but I refused to use it,” she later recalled. “When I heard about his murder, I thought my voice had killed a man and so it wasn’t safe to speak. “After a while, I no longer knew why I didn’t speak, I simply didn’t speak.” – Maya Angelou
From what I have read and researched about Maya Angelou and her mutism, it seems to me that her mutism was more like traumatic mutism. It is very possible though that her mutism developed into something more.
While a traumatic experience may be the cause of selective mutism for some, it is not very often this happens and it is not common either. Trauma is not the reason why most children develop it.
I wrote this blog post because I don’t want people to see the quote at the very top of this blog post and become misinformed by it. I want people to get the right information when they are reading about selective mutism.