My Experience of Selective Mutism in School

I had felt the slow drip of dread the whole way through my summer at home. I was four years old and school was just around the corner. I felt like a condemned boy. That summer’s sun felt like the last warmth I’d ever feel.

Then I was there. In front of the school classroom door. It opened. A wall of sensation flooded out of the classroom and into me.

The sensations matched a previous anxiety provoking episode in my life. I was left in hospital for two weeks when I was two without my parents when recovering from a bad dose of croup. Now, these sensations bypassed my thinking brain and went straight to my amygdala triggering an amygdala hijack.

I froze.

I sat in class each day and when each expectation to speak arose I felt the same phobic reaction. I could not move.

Classmates would ask me simple questions and get no response. Teachers would call the roll and get no response. I could not ask to go to the toilet. Indeed, I could not even raise my hand to get the teacher’s attention. At break time I followed the others to the yard and then either stood glued to the wall or circled to nowhere.

I remember the time when my paintbrush dried up and I could not ask anyone to pass the paint jar and so moved the still wet, but drying paint around on the page hoping no one would notice.

The time when I wore no coat in to school despite the freezing temperature just so I could get in to my desk first and not have to ask my neighbor to move. My neighbor would be busy hanging up his coat you see.

The thought to speak and the emotion that could lead to speech brought up the phobic reaction. I was attacked from two fronts.

The lack of response led to bullying and exclusion.

At home I was different. I played on the road with my friends. I talked, shouted and screamed. At times though, the thought of school struck and I would fold over in two where-ever I stood. At other times someone might show up from school and then the phobia struck again. The older I got the less reprieve my home life offered me until it too was taken over by the phobia and the mutism.

This lasted the full thirteen years of my junior, primary and secondary schooling.

My school years were definitely not the best years of my life.