My selective mutism diagnosis confused me

My mom always said that I began to sing long before I could talk. Not sure if she meant it literally or just quoting an ABBA song.

But I do remember singing a lot at a very young age. Music was my first love. I could effortlessly memorise lyrics and loved sharing trivia about bands and artists with my mom.

I stopped talking at the age of four.

To be more precise, I still talked to my parents and sister. But not to anyone else. Not even my grandparents who lived with us and took care of me while my parents were at work.

I was diagnosed with selective mutism. I guess that diagnosis made sense at the time.

At some point, I stopped speaking in a “normal” voice even with my parents and sister. Instead, I began to speak in a barely audible, whispery voice to everyone.

My mom suspected that there might be more to it than selective mutism. She wondered if I might be Autistic. When she brought up that possibility with the doctor who diagnosed me, he insisted that I couldn’t be Autistic and that I only had selective mutism.

And so, selective mutism was the only thing I had to explain my difference. And it led to a lot of misunderstanding.

Many people assumed that I spoke this way on purpose because it was “selective”. That all I needed was some discipline or scare tactics (people have said to me “What if you get assaulted or kidnapped? How are you going to scream for help?”) to make me talk normally.

It didn’t work, of course. People thought I was incredibly stubborn. Or “dumb” (people have actually called me that to my face).

I saw therapists to treat my selective mutism. But their strategies didn’t work for me.

When I read up on or watched documentaries about selective mutism, I found it hard to relate because there wasn’t any situation where I spoke normally.

At the age of 20, I was finally diagnosed with autism. It explained so much more than my selective mutism diagnosis ever did.

Now, I realise that the way I speak isn’t solely caused by anxiety. I have a sensory aversion to speaking at a “normal” volume. (It’s too loud for me! And the sound is coming from inside! I can’t cover my ears to block it out!) My brain sometimes struggles to put together words in my mouth. And it takes a lot of energy for me to speak — it’s not something that comes naturally to me.

I now find “semi-speaking” to be a more accurate descriptor of my communication style.

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