Did you know that October Was Selective Mutism Awareness Month – And Here’s Why You Should Care

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October: a month of Thanksgiving, long weekends, and of course, the main event, Halloween. We were all looking forward to that night of frightful fun, but with all the anticipation going on, other reasons to notice October were swept under the rug. One such reason was selective mutism awareness month.

Yes, October was selective mutism awareness month, but if you are of the majority, you may not know what this is or what it means.

Selective mutism, or SM, is a childhood disorder closely linked with social anxiety and social phobias. It is characterized by the inability to speak in certain situations, to certain people, or about certain topics. It often occurs in social situations, such as speaking in front of a class or meeting a new person. This description may make it sound like people with this disorder are just being stubborn or are just shy, but this is not the case; selective mutism renders a person unable to speak in uncomfortable situations. Although the disorder is called selective, people with SM do not choose when they go mute.

This disorder does have varying degrees of severity. Some people may be completely unable to communicate when they go mute, while others may be able to use body language or other means to communicate their needs and intentions. Selective mutism is not considered a speech impediment, as many selectively mute people have a good grasp of their language in situations where they are comfortable.

You may be thinking: how does this affect me? Why should you care if some little kids can’t talk sometimes? The truth is, although selective mutism is called a childhood disorder and generally becomes noticeable when a child is between one to three years old, it can easily continue into their teens and, in some cases, into adulthood. Yes, it is probable that there are selectively mute students here at KSS.

In mental health situations, selective mutism is diagnosed in approximately one in every one thousand people, but it is likely that the number of people with this disorder is actually much more. One study involving a large number of students in a California school district found that about seven out of every thousand students met the diagnostic criteria for SM, and possibly more who showed some but not all symptoms of the disorder. This means that there could be roughly fourteen students at KSS who are selectively mute, and perhaps more.

The problem is that selective mutism is not a widely understood disorder. Studies on SM are scarce, despite it being moderately common. Students with SM are often disciplined for not speaking, which is unfair, considering that they have no choice in whether they do or not. Selectively mute people are also regularly labeled as being just shy, stubborn, or other things of the sort. This is a huge cause of frustration for those with SM, as it hurts to be dismissed and misunderstood in these ways.

The benefits of selective mutism awareness month are many. Those without SM will come to understand the disorder better, and may be more accommodating to the needs of those with SM. Many people who were not aware of the disorder before may find that they display many of the symptoms, and could experience the relief of knowing there is a term for what they go through.

Although it may seem like a small issue to some, selective mutism is a big part of many people’s lives, and if it were better understood and accepted by the general public, things would look up for them greatly.

So, if you can, do some research, educate yourself, and spread the word!