• English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Swedish
Back to Firefly Blog

Too Terrified to Talk

Too Terrified to Talk

As I walk my little girl the seven minute walk to school she chats away non stop. We laugh together, relaxed and care free.

Then we reach the school gates and everything changes.

Her shoulders go down, her eyes look only to the ground and her stride slows. Most significant of all though: she immediately stops talking, even if in mid sentence.

A flick is switched and that’s the last her voice is heard until I pick her up again at 3pm.

My daughter has selective mutism.

It’s an extreme anxiety condition that means she physically can’t bring herself to speak in certain situations despite being very verbal in other places.

You would be forgiven for thinking my daughter hated school. The reality is she doesn’t.

She has friends, loves learning and enjoys the routine. But she is too terrified to talk in that environment.

She never spoke a word in the two years she attended nursery and hasn’t spoken in school for five years.

Like a lot of people with selective mutism she is also on the autism spectrum and has a further diagnosis of generalised anxiety.

Can you imagine being too terrified to talk?

Too terrified to ask for help when you don’t understand what the teacher has said.

Too terrified to ask for a rubber or to sharpen your pencil.

Too terrified to raise your hand to answer a question even if you know the answer.

Too terrified to even ask to go to the toilet.

It’s debilitating and disabling.

People assume she is making a choice, controlling, even manipulating things.

In actual fact she is so terrified her voice is unable to form words.

She told me once it was like the words just refuse to come out of her mouth no matter how hard she tries.

She wants to speak, she just can’t in certain places or to certain people.

It’s not bad behaviour it’s severe anxiety.

So her teachers have never heard her speak. Her classmates don’t know what her voice sounds like.

She’s never had words to learn for a class assembly or school play and assessing her reading ability has caused problems because she can not read aloud.

Selective mutism affects her education.

It affects her socially and emotionally and it robs her of so much.

Yet all the time at home she’s chatty, funny, and displays a large complex vocabulary and a beautiful delicate voice that I never tire of hearing.

She reads aloud, converses freely and is animated. She dances, plays and jokes around.

Yet outside of her home she’s like a rabbit caught in headlights, like a puppy hiding under a blanket, like a statue frozen in fear.

Too terrified to attract attention, too terrified to talk.

Beautiful, clever, but consumed with anxiety.

Bound by the reigns of selective mutism with no means of getting free.

Imagine having words but being unable to use them?

That’s her life every single day.

That’s selective mutism.

Firefly Blog

Real life stories, issues and experiences of day to day life by special needs parents and
healthcare professionals.

Miriam Gwynne

Meet Our Blogger

I am 41 and from Scotland. I have nine year old twins who both have complex needs and a husband who has autism, depression and nf1. I read, write, help out in my daughter’s school and have a strong faith. I laugh, cry and over share!

View Miriam’s Profile

Become a Firefly Blogger

Would you like to write for Firefly? Join our blogger network of parents, therapists and professionals.

Get In Touch

Become a subscriber today

Join over 40,000 subscribers to our weekly newsletter with insightful articles just when you need them.

Join Mailing List

By using our site you agree to our use of cookies. Click here for more info.

Accept & Close

No Interest if paid in full in 4 months on

Purchases on £99+

UK Customers only. Subject to credit approval. See terms below

Paypal Credit

Pay now or pay over time with PayPal Credit. Just use PayPal Credit in PayPal checkout.

Subject to credit approval.

Purchases of £99+:

No Interest if paid in full in 4 months on purchases of £99 or more.

  • A minimum monthly payment is required and may or may not pay off the promotional purchase by the end of the 4-month period.
  • No interest will be charged on the purchase if you pay it off in full within 4 months. If you do not, interest will be charged on the purchase from the purchase date at the Purchase APR applicable to your account.
  • Any remaining balance due after the 4-month promotional period or any transactions under £99 will be charged interest at 19.9% p.a. (variable).

Purchases of £98.99 or less:

Buy now and pay over time with PayPal Credit when you spend £98.99 or less.

  • If you pay your balance in full each month by the payment due date that is on your statement, you can avoid paying interest.
  • Or, make minimum monthly payments, or any additional amount of your choosing, until you've paid off your balance according to your standard account terms. Please note, interest charges may apply.
  • We'll send you email reminders when your payments are due. You can also keep track of your account and view your statements online at any time.

About PayPal Credit

  • PayPal Credit is a reusable credit line available on purchases at thousands of stores that accept PayPal. It's also available for purchases on eBay and exclusively at thousands of other online stores. Plus, it comes with the same security and flexibility you trust from PayPal.
  • In order to maintain the 0% offer, you need to keep up monthly repayments and stay within your credit limit. Credit subject to status. Terms and conditions apply. UK residents only.

Please wait...