Selective Mute

Have you ever heard of a person being a selective mute? A friend was describing the story of a girl who is now considered a selective mute. She has other special needs but none that affected her speech until recently when she decided not to talk anymore. How frustrating for her parents and educators who brought her so far, only to be disappointed by this setback. More importantly, how awful for her. Her ability to communicate has just been stonewalled.

As I shared this story with a colleague this morning, we entered a discussion about the power of voices. We shared some experiences and agreed to both write about the same topic. What will that look like? What spin will we each put on it? The same topic, the same discussion, but it’s probable that each entry will be so different.

As I reflected on voice, I thought it was amazing how we tune into different voices and know who people are just from the sound that is produced when they talk. You might not speak to someone for a year, but if you hear their voice, you would know who it was immediately.

On the flip side, what if suddenly the voice was taken, disappeared, stolen? No voice, silence, only gestures to communicate.

Well, that wouldn’t be so bad. I am always asking Emily to be quiet, even for just a little while. She is so incredibly loud, almost all the time. How nice would it be to have peace and quite? I just want to be able to think, just for a moment, without noise. But…I must be careful what I wish for. If she had no voice…

I would miss the sweet singing I often hear coming from the back seat.
I would miss the big laughs that escape her mouth for silly reasons.
I would miss the many questions she asks as she tries to figure out life.
I would miss the I love you’s that are whispered out of her mouth.
I would miss the sassiness that has a way of making an appearance so often.
I would miss the rhythm of her reading and the excitement and emotions she displays while reading.
Though I never thought I would say this, I think I would miss her crying. For that is a way of communication too.

I am sure I am not capturing everything I would miss. But what if, just what if, your child suddenly became a selective mute?


16 thoughts on “Selective Mute

  1. Jaana says:

    In the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages, we talk about the silent period. When students learning a new language (any language) can have a silent period when they refuse to talk. Kind of like being a selective mute. It is really interesting to observe how children (and older people too) process language and all the steps it takes to learn a new language. If my daughter suddenly become selective mute, I would miss her words, comments, mumblings; I would miss all the sounds that she makes because they are part of who she is.

  2. Such a thoughtful comment Jaana! Thanks so much! Yes, voice makes you who you are, and it seems we would be missing half of our kids if they became selective mutes. Thank God for all our blessings!

  3. With a baby who is blind, I think about sounds and voices more than ever before and I think about knowing voices without seeing. Yes, what we would miss if our children chose not to speak would be substantial. Thanking God today for the blessings we do have.

  4. I bet every other sense is so tuned in with your baby. Such an uplifting and inspiring comment you made. Despite a lack of vision your baby experiences, you are still so positive and grateful for what he/she DOES have. Sure makes life easier when you celebrate your blessings, though I know it’s not always easy. But – you sure make it sound easy. Your baby is so lucky to have such a wonderful mom! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Unfortunately for as quick and they stop speaking,
      it takes considerably longer to gain the trust and confidence for them to begin speaking again, if they ever do.

  5. I’m thinking about how many times I’ve read a piece written by someone I know and I swear I can actually “hear” their voice. It’s as if they are saying it to me directly. I never thought about what it would be to read a piece from that same known person if I didn’t have the sense of ” voice”. It adds so much to the meaning I take away. This gives us all much to think about.

  6. I had a student who was a selective mute. She would whisper to a friend or her parents but not to me. Her big eyes would stare at me. I would reword questions so she could nod yes or no. It was a challenging year. By the end of the year, she would stand close and whisper to me, as long a s no one was close. She moved the following year so I don’t know if she ever found her voice.

  7. What a thought provoking post! My heart thinks that something in that head of hers just said that speaking doesn’t pay off. That’s so sad to me. But then While the physical voice is gone, there is so much to be communicated. I try to think then of all the ways I communicate outside of my physical voice…

  8. Very thought-provoking post. It is interesting to think about how often we ask someone to be quiet- especially kids. And then on the flip side how much we value to sound of someones voice. Very cool slice!

  9. I never really thought about what I would miss if (insert name here) was not talking anymore. Thank you for making me think about how much I would miss…this makes me think that sometimes we just need to let our kids talk and see what comes out- thanks for such a great Slice!

  10. As much as I wished that my kids would cool it tonight and be quiet so I could finish writing and do some reading, I would be horrified by their muteness. In fact 10 minutes quiet and I start to worry. Forever? Hard to swallow that scenario… I just read Carrie’s and now yours. Two different takes on the same topic is a very cool idea! Although both came out a little sad but definitely thought provoking.

  11. We had a selective mute enter our junior high a few years ago. Her records showed that she hadn’t spoken a word in school since Kindergarten! She would talk at home, but not in school. With the combined effort of a caring, determined staff, she left us speaking, and continued to talk in high school.
    By the way, I love your take on voice. I also agree with Cathy…I would love for us all to write a slice anonymously and see if we could guess the writer.

  12. Thanks Lynn! I appreciate you sharing your story! How neat is that. You know you make a difference, but to see such a transformation – amazing! Great work! 🙂 she came to the right place! Lucky girl!

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