Autism mutism and related vocal topics
This started out with my own struggles with selective mutism as I thought about how to explain that. But selective mutism is just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the primary defined struggles listed in the DSM in order to diagnose autism is struggles with communication.
An autistic person must by default, then, have struggles with speaking, self expression, understanding others speech or communications, and responding to such as in a conversation, taking or giving directions, understanding expectations or intent, etc..
We may communicate with written words or sign language, use a message board or an electronic device and be able to communicate, all good.
But a significant number of autistic individuals have struggles, challenges, disabilities, and problems in speaking at all.
Studies tell us up to one third of autistic individuals never speak.
Many to most others( autistic individuals) have specific trouble with self expression, either due to physical or neurological differences, or because of anxiety or sensory processing differences.
Today’s children are being screened and helped much earlier in most places in the USA and much more is understood about how to help with communication skills.
Older adults may have grown up without benefit of professional assistance and my be firmly locked into old diagnoses or misunderstandings and labels about their speech patterns, their difficulties in self expression, about their ability to understand and to be understood.
How many older adults today could be helped though new tools being used to help youngsters in clinical and professional settings today? How many older adults trapped in institutions and care homes or at home in caretaking situations could benefit from today’s understanding of neurological problems with communication and speaking. Once labeled are these folks stuck in non productive and unhealthy patterns that keep them tied to being dependent and misunderstood, frustrated and heavily medicated??
How many could have a better life through better communication now that we have learned so much about autism, speech and communication, and physical, neurological and emotional/ anxiety which lead to difficulties in communication?
Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that results in a person’s “locking up” or inability to speak at certain times or in certain situations. Selective does not mean that one has a choice or that one chooses to become mute, but rather that it happens only in select or specific situations or conditions.
In my own experience, it seems to be that my processing of speech and hearing (which are very poor) is not fast enough to meet sudden demands. I tend to lock up when asked to respond with words quickly with expectations from others as I am pressed to respond rapidly and with full understanding.
I just can’t make myself “go” that fast! I called it “deer in the headlights” response because I freeze before I can respond, just as a deer freezes sometimes before it explodes into action.
I am fortunate to be able to speak in most situations and have got better at it with my life experience.
As a child this was truly disabling, to be called upon in a classroom or expected to interact with a stranger and being prompted to “say something” in many situations where my anxiety was already on high alert. I simply could not perform as expected. The more anxious I become the less speech I seem to be capable of, and the slower I am to respond.
Today I can tell people ahead of time that this might happen or wait for the freeze response to pass and explain (not always, opportunity to say something in social situations is often fleeting)
If you struggle today with problems in communication of any form, be assured that you have many alternatives. You can get referred to professionals of all sorts who are able to help you sort out your struggles and help you get connected with tools and training you might need to live a better life through better communication.
If you were given a diagnosis regarding communication problems long ago and told there was nothing to do about it, consider checking with today’s speech and language experts, occupational therapists, psychologists, and other professionals to see if more has been learned since your diagnosis.
There is new understanding of speech and communication today and there are so many new ways to help. There is no shame in reaching out. Self care always first!