Learning About Shyness and Selective Mutism

Just listened to such a fascinating podcast from Quiet Connections which is all about selective mutism. This isn’t something I’ve ever learnt much about or felt connected to, but SO MUCH of this conversation reminded me of my childhood self, and I learnt a huge amount.

I had the common misconception that selective mutism meant being extremely quiet all of the time, and envisaged an extreme version of a child who doesn’t speak. Chelsea describes how this isn’t always the case - I guess that’s the ‘selective’ bit - and that children who are chatty in some situations can freeze up and feel unable to speak in others (often at school or with new people).

I so clearly remember starting secondary school and not speaking unless I absolutely had to - my 11 year old self was in overwhelm and retreated as much as possible, desperately hoping the teacher wouldn’t ask me a question. I would know the answer but never be brave enough to use my voice!

Bits of this episode uses language around ‘disorder’ and describes selective mutism as a condition that people might suffer from. I’ve got mixed feelings about this, as I don’t feel it’s helpful to pathologise quietness or shyness as ‘something wrong with you’. What conversations like this do so well is increase understanding, and therefore empathy and acceptance, around an unusual behaviour.

I’d never heard anyone talk about using an ‘other voice’ - often a more childlike voice - as a coping behaviour before. Now I want to send this episode to everyone who got irritated with me when I did this as a child and teenager!! It makes a lot of sense that when people are afraid to use their voice, a coping strategy is to adopt a different one.

Looking forward to listening to more of Outloud podcast and learning more about selective mutism in the future. 🙏🏼