Invisible Rules

“It is typical of someone with Selective Mutism to set unseen rules which must be painstakingly followed. Meaning, if you have never talked to a certain person, then you cannot break that rule, you must continue to never talk to that person. At least, that is how it is perceived in an untreated case of SM. But hope does exist, one can learn to live beyond Selective Mutism and childhood anxieties.”

Our son set these subconscious rules, we called them his “invisible rules”. I’m not sure if he was even aware he was doing it, but we noticed. He seemed resistive to change, but looking back, I believe it wasn’t actually change he was afraid of, it was learning new rules to follow that he struggled with the most. A routine was easier to stick to than learning something new. So, not talking in preschool became his comfortable habit. He carried this nonverbal routine on to kindergarten. Even though he was in a different school, he had not learned coping skills for his anxiety at his young age. Grasping at anything familiar to deal with his stress helped him handle new situations. So, his rule was, ‘whenever life presented a new situation, retreat and stay silent to deal with the stress’. He lived by this unspoken rule for several school years before learning to adapt and create a new ‘verbal’ rule. But it’s a learning process for everyone involved and each child is different. For us, change ultimately worked in his favor when it happened at the right time. Moving up a grade to a different teacher and mostly different students in his classroom, seemed to be the perfect situation to allow our child to set a new rule and speak aloud. So, offering changed environments may promote children with Selective Mutism to begin using their voice.

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