An advantage of being an older sufferer of Selective Mutism is that since I understand more about my SM than a younger sufferer would, I can often use a lot of the techniques to help me to overcome SM without anyone else even knowing it.
What I mean by this is that I will often use sliding in, in real life situations. There have been lots of times when I wouldn’t have been able to talk if I’d been for example in the same house if someone I’m unable to talk to is there, but overtime I’ve managed to change that. It won’t necessarily mean that I’ll be able to get to the point where I’ll actually be able to talk to them directly; that would require their co-operation for that to work which not everyone is willing to do, unfortunately.
To do this, I may start off by being in a different room to the person that I’m unable to talk to and I will whisper to someone that I am able to talk to in that room and gradually, I will increase the volume. When that becomes easier, I will have the door to that room slightly open but only do that if say for example the TV is on or if there is music playing. This way I can get used to them being close, but since there is extra sound going on, they won’t be able to hear me. After a while, the volume will then begin to creep up and I will be using the volume that is closest to my natural voice. Often this is a slight bit quieter than my natural voice, but that doesn’t matter, it’s still a step. Then, I might gradually move into the room bit by bit until I am in the same room as them and I’ll still be able to talk. The volume does go down once I’ve entered the room, but that doesn’t matter. This will still be whilst the TV is on (and usually it would have to be on pretty loud) or if there is music on, but I can get myself to the point where I can talk in the same room as someone who I’m not usually able to talk to, even if they won’t be able to hear me.
The brilliant thing about this is that no one has to even know that this is what you’re doing; not even the person you are talking to. Most people I can talk to know about my SM, so to them if I am to whisper, it’s not anything that’s particularly unusual. This means that absolutely everything you do would be set at your own pace and only you are the decider of what you decide to do next. For me, it can take months to even get to this point; it’s not something that is usually done all at once. The other thing is that especially if whoever’s house you are in has a big living room, it may be that the person you are unable to talk to may be so distracted talking to someone else that they may not even notice that you are talking and since they’ve never heard you talk, even if they were to overhear you, they may not even realise that it was you. Since they’re not expecting you to talk, they won’t be listening out to see if they hear you talk. I will say that I think that you would have to be at a certain point in your recovery for this to be helpful to you as if I had tried doing this before I began any of my treatment, this would have been totally impossible.
I’ve yet to talk to anyone directly using this method, but with some people, I have managed to get to the point where I know they will be able to overhear me. However, it does mean that I don’t have to dread going to a lot of peoples’ houses knowing that I won’t be able to speak the whole time that I’m there as I know that so long as there is someone there that I can talk to, I can just talk to them at a distance from anyone I am unable to talk to. Being unable to contribute to any of the conversations that are going on around you is one of the number one biggest frustrations for someone with SM so for me it is definitely helpful for that. To get any further and be able to speak to them directly, would mean that they would need to co-operate with me, but many people who don’t understand SM are not willing to do this. I would like to say that if you do know someone with SM who isn’t able to speak to you, that co-operation is the key if you ever want them to be able to speak to you. A step that people could use to help you would be to slightly lower the volume of the TV/music very gradually, but of course this does require co-operation of others and they need to realise that it does need to be done very gradually so that they don’t let the volume go down so fast that it’s too quick for your anxiety levels to get low enough for you to reach each step.
Here are some of the things that you should do you are someone that someone you know with SM isn’t able to speak to and you notice them talking to someone else or if you’re someone that someone with SM is talking to and you notice that they might be using a method similar to this:
- Don’t point it out or react. If you draw attention to the fact that you either notice that they’re using sliding in to help them to talk or just the fact that they are talking, it will only create such severe anxiety that they will immediately stop being able to talk. This will only make them take 10 steps backwards and they will then have to start the process all over again. Not something anyone wants as I know how much you would love for them to talk to you. Just act as if they have always been able to talk all the time. By all means have a little party inside of your head, but don’t let them be aware of that.
- Don’t start acting upset about the fact that they am talking to someone else but not you. If someone with Selective Mutism doesn’t talk to you, it is nothing personal in any way whatsoever. Whether or not they talk to you does not reflect how much they like you. Showing them that you are upset will only make them less likely to ever talk to you.
- Give them space. This is the most important one! If you see someone with SM talking to someone, don’t go over to them until they have stopped talking. Going over and saying hi whilst they’re talking will instantly render them speechless. They’re keeping a distance because that’s the distance they need to be in order to talk; don’t invade that space. I’m not saying to completely ignore them, by all means go over and say hi once they’ve stopped talking, just don’t do it whilst they’re in mid conversation. Just accept that for now these are the way things are and the fact that they are talking with you being able to see that they are talking means that they are already taking steps towards eventually talking to you.
- Don’t tell them that they don’t have to talk if they don’t want to. Everyone who has Selective Mutism wants to talk, they just can’t. Instead say something like, it doesn’t matter if you don’t talk just yet, you can talk when you’re ready.
Whilst it may not seem like it, SM sufferers are constantly doing things to help themselves to talk to people. I am often asked, “What are you actually doing to help yourself talk to people?” Which is often quite insulting, but it is understandable because often many of the things that I do are things that others wouldn’t even notice. For example this sliding in method can be done in what seems like such a natural way that no one would ever even notice what you were doing. Often when you have SM, you do have to take a lot of steps to help yourself before getting anyone else involved. When it comes to overcoming SM, you have to lower the anxiety and only then will the talking follow. This means that they could actually be doing a lot more things than you think to help themselves to eventually talk to you. Never underestimate someone with SM, whilst it may seem like they really don’t want to talk to you and they just don’t like you, it’s very possible that they could’ve been working really hard for months or even years to take steps to talk to you. You just have to be patient and know that your time will come for them to talk to you. Trust me when I say that people with SM also have to be patient; they have to have the patience of a saint to deal with being so desperate to talk to someone but knowing that it could take years before they eventually will.
When someone has Selective Mutism, it is often easier to start off taking steps to speak to the person they feel the least anxiety about speaking to. There is no point trying to start off speaking to someone that they feel the most anxiety around because then the process is going to take ten times longer. Starting off by talking to someone that they can communicate with in other ways other than talking is a good place to start. This does not mean that they necessarily favour that person over someone that they’re unable to communicate with at all, it just means that they’re trying to make things as easy as they possibly can for themselves because overcoming SM isn’t in the slightest bit easy. If you are someone that someone with Selective Mutism doesn’t communicate with in any way whatsoever, this is why they may seem to be talking to so many other people but not you. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that they feel more anxiety around you which is also nothing personal; often I don’t have a clue why I feel more anxiety around some people than others. You have to consider that many people with SM speak to very few people, so there are a lot of people that they have to go through all the techniques with so that they can talk to them. Your time will come, you just have to be patient.