The Words We Speak and 7 Things To Never Say to a Selective Mutism Sufferer

Jerome Apt, a NASA astronaut who flew over the Pacific Ocean in the space shuttle between 1991 and 1996 said this:

“I never really believed that seventy one percent of our Earth’s surface is covered with salt water until I flew over the Pacific. Sometimes it took 35 minutes of our 90 minute orbit to cross the Pacific…”

Seeing is believing.

Such as it is for a person battling lifelong Selective Mutism, who can’t really grasp the enormity of people who share their condition.  SM has always been around and is as enormous in its far reaching effects as the sea itself. To go days without speaking? Months?

Easy. I’ve done so.

As Yeats said, the sea is possessed of a ‘murderous innocence…’

I read the following line about living with SM recently. It was an affirmation of sorts:

 “I was ashamed of myself, but nodding and mime were the best I could do.”- Carl Sutton, in Selective Mutism; In Our Own Words.

Indeed. To acknowledge Carl’s experience (and the others in the book) is to take a deep cleansing breath and to soldier on. SM infiltrates everything. And it’s always been there.

“That’s the girl who doesn’t talk.”

“I heard her talk once. Maybe she’s two faced.”

SM is situational. Anxiety fueled.


Those words of Carl’s ring true.

Those 5 written words are a powerful and heartfelt sentiment. I know.

(Like the astronaut,) upon reading this brave book, one gets a clearer realistic view of others who share our world. The expanse of sufferers is vast.

In my case, a ‘world of quiet’ is inhabited by so many more soldiers than me, more than a young child (who incidentally is pictured on the cover of this book) could have imagined or hoped for. The book has a profound meaning to me.

I have a voice in it; alongside other members of my “tribe” ( as Carl aptly describes it!)

Wittgenstein said:

“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen.”

This means:

“What we can’t speak of, we must pass over in silence.”


Where do Unuttered Words go?
I imagine a peacock. Preening itself. The words are there; unborn feathers beneath the tender skin- causing itches and hoping beyond hope to sprout through like the others; through the hush of plumage and be acknowledged too —like the other showy feathers.
Image from

Imagine a dreary landscape. An urban village which once held promise; swallowed in blight. Desolate. Abandoned. Deterioration apparent of both beauty and function. Juxtaposing.

And yet another quote! Here’s a passage from “The Road to Wigan Pier,” wherein Orwell says: industrial landscapes…

“go on being largely ugly because northerners have got used to that kind of thing and do not notice it.”

Such as it is to be brimming with words and unable to utter even one. You get used to the ugly lump in the throat. You swallow the unspoken ideas, thoughts, joy. A hugely desolate isolation occurs. Unuttered words in fact, rot and decay, and frustration, even apathy can set in. So like urban decay, the condition of SM seems a waste of promise and becomes commonplace; it seems fixed; unchangeable. Sometimes when the words come out it seems like graffiti, making ideas known on top of blight, feeling artful at once. A way of being in the world, silent. Not a choice but so ingrained hardly noticing and at other times brutally exposed by the unfairness of it.

This book (I received my free contributor’s copy at last but would’ve purchased the book even had I not contributed) is an important one.

Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner…


To understand is to forgive.

(Perhaps even to forgive one’s self for something beyond one’s willful control.)

Seven Things To Never Say To A Person Struggling With Speaking Aloud:

1) Cat got your tongue?

2) Can you talk?

3) Hello? Is anyone in there?

4) Are you gonna be a scared rabbit all your life?

5) (to a person trying to speak to an SM person:) Don’t bother. She/he won’t answer you. She/he never does.

6) She’s/he’s so shy!!!

7) Have you always been like this?

My speech helper and friend Judy

(Judith F. Rosenfield, CCC-SLP

Occupational Therapist · Weatogue)

is of one of many insightful, patient, informed practitioners or helpers who care a whole lot and help in ways that are respectful, human, and kind. She has contributed valuable insight and wisdom to this book. How many times did I take deep breaths reading this book? How many times did I nod, smile? Shed long suppressed tears?

It’s a BRAVE book.

Whether SM is as mysterious to you as the megoliths of Carnac in Brittany,

Or as familiar as a well worn slipper,

Get the SM book here and support SM awareness:



my book is available here:

P.S. Here’s a bonus tip on something never to an SM individual’s parent:

Give that kid to me for two weeks and I’ll straighten him/her out!

Don’t blame the parents.

Before I go I want to point something out. I often quote people when writing a blog post but for this one in particular, I seem to have relied heavily on quotes (to underline and give essence to my own feelings.) I have a theory as to why this is… I believe that I am filled with so many unnamed feelings in regard to this topic that it was hard to find my words!

For my next blog:

Humorous antecdotes.

Bye for now


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