inspiration / life stuff

Writing about Selective Mutism

October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month, and so I wanted to talk today about Situational or Selective Mutism (or SM as it is often known) and add my voice to those tweeting and blogging about SM this month to try and help raise awareness.


As some of you may already know, Tessie, in my book What I Couldn’t Tell You suffers with SM, and I did a good deal of research on SM before I wrote the book and wrote in Tessie’s voice so that I could make her voice as authentic as possible.

 So how did I come to hear about Selective Mutism?

I’d never heard of SM until I happened to listen to a young woman, Sheri Pitman, speaking about her past experiences of SM on the radio. Sheri was chatty and bubbly as she talked about how she had overcome her SM, but it became clear in the course of the interview that whilst she was suffering with SM Sheri hadn’t spoken outside of her own home for 9 years. I admit that I was completely shocked in hearing this, and having never heard of Selective Mutism before, I wanted to find out more.

Have you heard of SM?

SM isn’t a particularly well-known condition, although statistics shows that 1 in 140 children will suffer with it. If you think about the number of students in your school then the chances are there will be some students in your own school community who may well be suffering with it, and this is why it’s so important to raise awareness.

Research for writing about SM

After I heard Sheri on the radio I immediately wanted to find out more about SM, and so I went away and did some research. The research I did showed me quite quickly that all the assumptions I’d made about Sheri and why she hadn’t spoken for 9 years outside of her house were wrong. I learned that SM is caused by severe social anxiety in unfamiliar, most usually public, situations and settings. I learned that it is not a choice. The anxiety causes the person with SM to be unable to speak. This explains why someone with SM will be able to speak comfortably and at ease with their close family when they are at home, but find themselves unable to when they are outside of their home.

Why did I write What I Couldn’t Tell You from Tessie’s point of view?

Having done my research I was struck by the idea that a first person narrative could give someone with SM, someone like Sheri, a voice in the outside world that she didn’t otherwise have. I loved the idea that a fictional narrative could do this – the power of a story – and this is really where my story, and the character of Tessie, began…



If you’d like to find out more about SM and be in with a chance to win one of three signed copies of What I Couldn’t Tell You then please do click on the link HERE which will take you to the giveaway on my website…


2 thoughts on “Writing about Selective Mutism

  1. Could I add something? It is also Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month and this also has a focus on people with communication disabilities. It’s an enormous issue and one which is almost completely ignored. If you think about it there is a good reason for this. It’s hard to talk about not communicating when you can’t communicate or find it difficult to communicate. I haven’t read this book – but I’ll be looking for a copy so I can – but I’d like to emphasise that someone with SM doesn’t choose simply not to talk. They can’t talk. There are other people who can’t talk for other reasons. The world can be a very frightening place for them.
    I’m glad someone has written a book about SM!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, and it’s interesting to hear about Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month as I wasn’t aware of it. I do completely agree that for the person with SM their not speaking is not in any way a choice, and there is a huge amount of misunderstanding around this so an important point to raise. Thank you. I do hope that you enjoy the book if you go on to read it! Faye

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