As disabilities go, muteness seems like one that'd be pretty easy for people to wrap their heads around. You can't talk, big deal. Pop culture is full of mutes, and they're usually cool and mysterious (or, you know, Jason Vorhees). But try explaining to people that you can talk, but sometimes ... don't. Even if remaining silent means your own safety is at risk, the gears between your brain and mouth simply don't turn. It's a condition called selective mutism, and it is very real, even though people really struggle with believing it is. We spoke with Andy, a selective mute from Brisbane, about this deeply weird and often infuriating condition.
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The first misconception that'll pop into your mind is that surely Andy can talk if he really wants to -- you know, like, if there's an emergency or something. But actually, that's when his voice is most likely to abandon him.
"There's like a block there," he explained. "You brain just tells you not to do it." And yes, emergencies have occurred, and trying to work through selective mutism in the middle of a panic sounds like a goddamned nightmare. "When I was younger, I'd flail about. Like when my dog had seizures and my parents were inside, I'd wave my arms about and get them to follow me, but if it was someone else, like a family friend, I'd need to build up and say 'Dah ... dah ... dog!' and then they'd know."
It's kind of like a stutter in that regard, in that there's circuitry in the brain that's affected by circumstances and emotional state. Still, it'd be ignorant to dismiss it as being all in his head.