October is selective mutism awareness month. We can’t always see what people struggle with, and being unable to talk can be one of those things. My best friend recently got a formal diagnosis of selective mutism, but even before then, we had to figure out new forms of communication that worked for us. After speaking to my friends, we have compiled a list of our five favorite forms of alternative communication, hoping that someone will try them in order to ease the burden of communication for others.
1. Thumbs up/Thumbs down
My friend and I found that this is a good tactic for when we are in large crowds. My friend tends to get more anxious in large crowds when she is separated from people she knows, and this is when she finds it most difficult to communicate. When we can’t speak verbally across the room, I will show her a thumbs up, and she’ll respond with either a thumbs up or thumbs down. A thumbs up signals that she is okay with her current situation. If she shows a thumbs down, I will do what I can to reconnect with her in the large crowd.
2. Holding hands
Even if this tactic cannot communicate a lot of messages, it does communicate one important message: I’m here for you. Much of the time, those with selective mutism can feel isolated, as they cannot communicate what they wish to say. This can lead to anxiety for the person with selective mutism, as they are often concerned that their friends will consider their lack of communication as rude. By holding my friend’s hand when she cannot talk with me, I am saying, “I understand, and I am here to listen when you, whether that is now or later.”
We are all addicted to our phones, which makes this an easy form of communication for my friend and I. This works particularly well now, because we go to college in different states. When my friend feels isolated because of her selective mutism, she finds it much easier to text me about how she feels, rather than talking on the phone.
Although some might think it’s rude, my friend and I find this an efficient way for us to communicate. Like many teenage girls, we like to talk about anything and everything, which does not stop when my friend is having a bad communication day. She wants to talk with me, to remark on things that she thinks I will find funny and enjoy our time together, even when she cannot respond verbally. Often, when she points to an object, it is relatively easy to guess what she wants me to know, but even when it isn’t easy, it is worth it to have a meaningful conversation with her.
Although this is such an easy form of communication, many people forget this is a viable option. My friend and I like it because it is relatively discrete, and we can use different hand writing and symbols to emphasize certain words or phrases. We can pass notes when working together in class, or sitting side by side while watching a movie. Even though it takes longer, it is one of my favorite forms of communication and is worth the time.
Although people with selective mutism can find it more difficult to communicate, does not mean that they cannot communicate. If you give them time and are flexible, you will have meaningful conversations that can strengthen your friendship.