Finding my voice through the classics

As someone with SM who really cares about her schooling, my online classes have been perfect for me. I feel safe and comfortable in online classes in general, but there is something about a class that is on a topic that I love, like mythology, that makes me want to open up even more than I would in other classes. I am an active participant in all of my classes, and have found ways to continue to be in touch with my classmates even after school ended. 

For me, history and mythology take me to a different world. It is kind of a place where I forget my anxieties and get more overtaken by my excitement for the subject. In my mythology and classical history classes, I open up to both my teachers and my classmates without hesitation. I don’t just answer questions and prompts, but ask them of my peers. I am even in touch with many of my classmates from these classes outside of the classroom. My classmates from my classical classes and I have formed email groups and chat groups in which I am very active. I enjoy interacting with classmates in my mythology and classical history classes so much that I don’t even think once about being an introvert with SM. 

It really is a bit strange – taking these classes in subjects I am super excited about has broadened my education, but even more, the classics have helped me see what it is like to overcome my introversion and SM tendencies. When I am interacting with my classmates from these classes, I am just one of the kids, bantering back and forth. For example, in my mythology class, we were interacting on-topic a few weeks ago about who started the curse of the House of Atreus, a mythological bloodline including many woebegone myth protagonists such as Tantalus, who was cursed to never be able to eat or drink in the Underworld. I had my own opinion, and was not at all shy to share it and respectfully disagree with classmates. 

Another example happens almost every day: I interact with my classmates outside of the classroom very often, in ways where we take what we have learned to the next level and apply it to real life. In one group, about a month ago, they held an election and formed a Third Triumvirate of the Roman Empire. The elected classmates then randomly appointed other people roles such as Centurians of the Cohorts, Legates, and such. We then challenged ourselves to get the chat chain to 1000 chats before the end of the year, and I participated in posting chats so much that I got promoted to become one of the ‘rulers,’ and we formed a Quadrumvirate. 

These interactions have helped me put aside my SM to have fun with other kids my age, so much so that I now check my email every day to make sure I don’t miss any fun conversations. I think the reason I am so easily able to have fun with classmates despite my SM is because I really love the topics of classical history and mythology, so I don’t have to struggle to want to be actively interacting with peers. I think that doing that can help anyone with SM. Just find a topic or subject or anything that you love and enjoy, whether it is academic or not, and it’ll be much easier to be chatty with other kids.

Adventures in Being the Center of Attention

Can you imagine being the center of attention in a room full of over thirty (30) strangers? And to make it worse, they were all adults! I’m sure you all know that this would be the absolute worst nightmare for someone with SM. So, the good news is, I won a history essay competition and got to go to an award ceremony with the orginazation Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The bad news is, I HAD to go to an award ceremony for the DAR. I was feeling really proud of myself for winning the contest, and really excited to go to an award ceremony. But then, as it got closer and closer, I started getting nervous. I was nervous because I knew that I would be the center of attention, and I didn’t know for how long. I didn’t know if I would have to say stuff when the award was presented to me, and if so, for how long would I have to speak. I didn’t know how many people there would be, or what they might say to me. I didn’t want to make a bad impression on them, but I didn’t want to have to say anything to them. 

When the day finally arrived, I got a big lump in my stomach. For the whole thirty minute drive, I kept imaging worst-case scenarios. Then, we arrived, and met everyone who had come. There were probably thirty to fourty people. They all wanted to be introduced to me, take pictures with me, have conversations with me. It was all really terrifying. Each time someone elso came up to me, I thought, Oh no, here we go again. I REALLY don’t want to do this with you. But I put on my smile and pretended to be enjoying myself. The orginaztion provided a meal for us, but I wasn’t really hungry – I had a big swarm of butterflies in my stomach. 

The whole time, I kept thinking that it was cool that I was here, but I didn’t wanted anyone to pay any attention to me. Then, it came time for me to come up and be presented with my award. My mom gave me a nudge and I stood up and walked to the front. The woman first congratulated me and talked about how great of an essay I wrote and how much of a big deal this was. Then, she took about a minute each to explain my awards – a coin, a medal pin, and a certificate. Then, she pinned on the medal pin for me, had me hold up my certificate and coin, and had me pose so that everyone, and I mean EVERONE, could take pictures. They wrapped up the meeting once I had sat down, and once it ended, even MORE people came up to me to take picture and talk to me. I felt really uncomfortable, but I managed through. Finally we left, and I was able to relax. 

Even though it was hard, scary, and uncomfortable for me, after we left and the pressure was taken off, I was able to just feel proud for myself and happy to over with it. Overall, apart from about 5 minutes of terrifying experience, it was fun. And I learned that even if speaking, being seen, or being social is hard at first, or even hard for a while, you can always look forward to after that is all over, and look forward to being able to relax and just feel good.

How Teachers Can Help Kids in Class

With a new year and a new semester of school, I’ve been thinking about all the thinks that make me nervous and anxious in a classroom, and the things that teachers do to help me feel more comfortable. So, I put together a list of a few things that teachers should and should not do when teaching an anxious student. One of my favorite teachers Dr. Kirsten Stein had kindly agreed to let me do a guest blog post on her online school, Athena’s Advanced Academy. Hopefully, in the future, this will help teachers to make SM and anxious kids more comfortable in a class. 

Before I started online schooling, I was in brick-and-mortar school. Besides being bored all the time because I wasn’t being challenged, school was a little scary. I had a lot to say and contribute, but the only way to share my thoughts was to be called on to speak in front of thirty other classmates. The idea of having to do that petrified me. Online schooling can be a big advantage to kids with anxiety if the instructor knows how to treat them. The ability to participate blog-style in an online classroom helps anxious kids feel more comfortable in school. Kids often feel more comfortable participating and speaking behind the security of a screen because they do not know what others are thinking about them and cannot see their facial expressions. If you do not know what someone else is thinking about you, you can forget them and focus on what you have to say. While some people think this is a bad thing because they are “hiding,” in reality it is an entry point which can launch the student into more active participation. Further, even if that is as far as that student is ready to go for now, it is better than no participation at all. If instructors can focus on the positives, and find the best ways to deal with students with anxiety, they can really contribute to those kids’ academic experiences in a helpful way. However, if the instructor does not know how to treat them, online webinars can be very stressful. 

Here are some of my thoughts about how teachers can help kids with anxiety feel more comfortable in a classroom. First, they should encourage kids to participate and speak while not making a kid feel pressured and uncomfortable. One good way to do this is to split students up into small groups or breakout rooms to work on a project together. Then, an anxious child might feel more comfortable speaking to two or three, or even four other kids, rather than fifteen or twenty. Another good way is to give kids a heads up about what you will talk about in class, so kids can already be thinking about what they have to say before arriving in class. That helps kids with anxiety talk a little more because they feel more comfortable speaking about something that they have thought about before-hand. Also, when teaching an anxious kid, there are some things you should always do. First, when a nervous student raises their hand to participate, you should prioritize them. This prioritization is because if another person is often saying an anxious student’s ideas before that student gets the chance to give their thoughts, then the anxious student will not be inclined to speak at all because they will feel that their contributions won’t matter or be as fresh. Also, it is important to not let one kid ‘hog’ the entire conversation. If one kid is doing all the talking and not letting anyone else have a chance to contribute, a nervous kid will be discouraged from engaging. 

However, there are also a few behaviors that instructors should avoid. First, for an anxious kid, the worst thing to happen in a classroom is being cold-called. That is because when a teacher cold-calls a student, they would have gotten called to speak when they might not have felt comfortable doing it. However, you should not ignore a child that is nervous, even if you think that it is doing them a favor by not making them participate. This is because if you do ignore them, it makes them feel invisible, or like no one notices them, or like they are not a part of the class. Additionally, you should not make a big deal about a student speaking in class to the entire classroom, but it is good to send a private message to the student about your pleasure with them engaging. Lastly, you should never force conversation or participation out of a student, but you can encourage it. 

Additionally, participation points can be either good or bad, depending on the student. For some kids, participation points are helpful because it gives them motivation that is greater than their anxiety. However, for others, it is very stressful, because it pretty much forces them to speak against their will. It’s helpful to run a poll at the beginning of the semester to gather students’ thoughts on this subject, and personalize teaching to the specific group of kids and what makes them tick.

To conclude, many teachers are unsure how to handle students with anxiety who do not openly want to participate. They might be inclined to either ignore students who seem anxious thinking they are helping, or try the opposite: forcing them into participating in a specific way. However, if these teachers are aware of how to make kids feel more comfortable, then both the student and the teacher can be happier and more relaxed, and the student will be able to contribute more to the discussion. This is a benefit to kids and instructors alike, as well as other kids in the class, as if everyone is comfortable, then we can create a tighter-knit community. 

My Experience with SM at Summer Camp

Summer Camp
Summer Camp

I went to sleepaway camp for a month this summer. While that might seem like a terrifying experience for someone with selective mutism, at camp I felt like I could be open about myself. I found myself talking a lot to friends and strangers, campers and counselors. Camp was a surprising happy place, and I found myself dreading going back home, where I would be alone, but for my family. 

On the first day of camp, I was expecting to have to work really hard to avoid talking, while also not making a bad first impression. But it was not to be so. I went up to my dorm room, where my room-mates were unpacking. On of them, Maya, immediately said hi and started going on about how happy she was to meet me. You might have thought: Uh-oh, we’re off to a bad start! But no! Instead of clamming up and being quiet, I struck up a conversation, and made friends with her. With all the other girls I was exactly the same! I don’t even know why. Maybe because no-one already knew me, so they did not know that I was normally quiet. It felt really good to be open and talkative. 

When I came back home, I became the quiet me everyone knew, only feeling a little bit braver. I’m not sure what it is about camp, but it just feels like a safe place where I can be myself. One of the reasons might be because there are not many consequences because it is short term. Another might be because I am around very few people, but the same people every day, just having fun, for a month. 

Some Helpful Links

Hi! Milana and Gabriel here. We wanted to share these useful links for learning more about selective mutism, hand-chosen and vetted by both of us. If you’re dealing with selective mutism, these resources have our full approval.

Selective Mutism – PMC 

This link takes you to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which provides an extensive amount of official facts from the government. Although it is a bit outdated, being published in March of 2010, we feel it still remains relevant. It is very long, however, and may not be as readable for younger readers.

What Is Selective Mutism – Selective Mutism Anxiety & Related Disorders Treatment Center | 

This link takes you to the Selective Mutism Center (SMart Center), which provides facts about selective mutism, including comparing it to other similar conditions, and some other points which they suggest you, the reader, to research too.

Selective mutism: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

This link takes you to the MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, which provides some easy-to-read facts about selective mutism, without you having to spend all your time going through hundreds of paragraphs of information. 

Selective Mutism | Cedars-Sinai 

Cedars-Sinai offers treatment and recommendations for kids living with selective mutism. This article goes into depth; however, much is in bullet points so it is quite readable for either kids or adults.

Selective Mutism   

ASHA, or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, has a section on Selective Mutism that we find really helpful, including recommendations for testing and treatment.

We plan to keep adding resources here as we find them, so check back often!

What is Selective Mutism? – Milana

My trainer comes up to me. “How are you doing, Milana?” She asks. I barely whisper, “Good,” though I see her 4 times a week, sometimes more. And she’s not scary, I just can’t speak to her.

Lots of people confuse selective mutism with just plain shyness. But there is a big difference. Take Gabriel, my brother, for example. He is shy. When he went to school, at first, when people talked to him, he would just stand there. But my mom explained to him to just say ‘hi,’ and he thought ‘Ok! That’s easy,’ and suddenly he talked. My mom tried the same tactic with me… with a different outcome. It didn’t make me talk – if anything, it made me quieter. That’s because he is shy and I am selectively mute

If someone is shy, they are hesitant to speak, but will, if they are in the right setting with the right encouragment. They might just be scared to say the wrong thing or worried that they will say the wrong thing. They may be frightened, but if they feel safe they will open up. But when you are selectively mute, it’s different. You really want to speak, but can’t. You want to open up, but won’t. You want to be a part of the group, a part of the conversation, but no. You’re quiet, not because you want to, but because you have no choice. For example, one day at my barn, Bella (my friend) and Madison (my trainer) were talking about the animals that show up in their backyard. I wanted to put in about the turtle that came to my backyard a few days back, but after a few minutes, when my vocal cords still wouldn’t vibrate, we moved on. 

We figured out I had selective mutism a few years ago, when, thinking I was shy, my mom brought me to a therapist to help get some mental tools to get me to open up more. When that did not work, the therapist suggested that I might have selective mutism, and I should see a specialist. At this point, we started doing some research, and everything matched that I would have selective mutism. Actually finding out that something could define what I was feeling made me feel much better and less alone than before. Because it helps to know that other people are similar to me and that I am not alone. Finally, we saw a therapist that specialized in selective mutism, and she started helping me. That helped me a bit because she understood me, but it still did not completely help. Selective mutism is always a challenge in everyday life, and I am constantly struggling with it. 

Having selective mutism means I also have a lot of unvoiced thoughts and comments. That builds up a bunch, and sometimes it helps to write it down. That’s part of what got me to start making this. Just because I don’t say much doesn’t mean I don’t think much or feel much. Sharing it with similar beings can help a ton.


Just say hi. Easy, right? Wrong. 

All my mom wants is for me to be polite. She and I both know that I am too old to not have basic manners. She is not asking me to have a conversation; just to say hi. But when I am faced with having to speak, my body won’t let me. I get butterflies in my tummy and I get really anxious. Anytime anyone asks me a question or even if I just have to say hi, I feel like I want to run and hide.  It feels like I am warring with myself. I tell myself to talk, but my mouth won’t open. No matter how many times I go over what I want to say, I just can’t. 

Here’s an example: my mom just wants me to say hi to a girl my age who I see four times a week at the barn where we ride horses. I know that she is nice and I know that we have a lot in common. We could talk about horses or other things we both like that make me comfortable. I know that if I just SPOKE, I could be better friends with her, but my mouth JUST WON’T OPEN. Normally she ends up being the one starting the conversation and I am barely able to get out ‘hi.’ Even once I get over that, I normally can’t get out more than a few words. I feel really frustrated with myself because I want to talk to her, but I can’t.  

Many people think I am rude, but that is not true. I know I come across that way but I can’t help it. Others think I just don’t have a lot to say. Also not true. I actually have a lot to say. But no amount of begging my body to speak will make it obey. I try to talk with motions and body behavior, but there is only so much you can say without actually saying anything. Plus, at ten years old, most other kids are able to have normal conversations. That makes me want to speak even more, but I just don’t know how to get my voice to cooperate. 

I don’t even want a bunch of friends. I just want a handful of close ones who I feel really comfortable around. It makes it even harder for me that I am homeschooled, because I spend most of my time in my room at my computer. I do not get much social time. In my online classes, however, I can get really chatty. It is easier for me to speak online because I am not face to face. 

Every day is a chance to get one step closer to being able to talk.