Selective Mutism - My Memories

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Japanese TV program featured an ex-SM sufferer in the UK

A popular Japanese TV program featured a UK model on February 13 who once suffered from selective mutism. During and after the broadcast, at least hundreds of people, including those who had not known SM until then, made comments about SM on the Internet.

The TV program is Za! Sekai Gyouten News broadcast by Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV). A popular comedian Tsurube Shofukutei and a popular singer Masahiro Nakai host the program. Gyouten is broadcast almost all across the country every week on prime time (Wed 21:00-21:54). On February 13 NTV broadcast a two hour special (20:00-21:54) including a SM story.

The protagonist of the story is a girl named Kirsty Heslewood, born in the UK. She suffered from SM but overcame it thanks to her mother and teacher. She now works as a model. I guess some readers of my blog may know her because her story appeared in the Daily Mail when she was selected as a finalist of Miss England.

During and after the broadcast, at least hundreds of viewers of the program commented about SM via Twitter, Facebook, BBS, blogs, etc. I have never known so many Japanese people comment about SM. Interestingly, not a few of them had not known SM until then. Gyouten seems to increase awareness of SM.

But some express concern. Knet, a SM support group based in Japan, warned viewers not to show videos of children with SM talking in their house without their permission like Kirsty's story. Knet says that often worsens symptoms or breaks trust among children, parents, and teachers.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Adult selective mutism and Hikikomori in Japan

Diamond Online, a Japanese business website, published articles about adult selective mutism with Hikikomori. Diamond Online publishes business articles as well as health ones.

First article [May 18, 2012]
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Second article [June 28, 2012]
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Third article [July 26, 2012]
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Hikikomori is a Japanese term that means long term social withdrawal typically by adolescent and adult males. Usually the concept of Hikikomori excludes symptoms of schizophrenia. Today hundreds and thousands of Japanese people are considered to withdraw from society.

All articles above are interviews with members of Association of Selective Mutism in Japan who experienced selective mutism. ASMJ is one of the major selective mutism support group in Japan, which, in my view, emphasizes adult selective mutism.

We can find many Japanese Hikikomori people who really suffer(ed) or seem(ed) to suffer from selective mutism in academic literature, books, on Internet websites, etc. But it is not clear how many people suffer from such difficulties.

According to a study by Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, out of 149 Hikikomori cases which visited 5 Mental Health and Welfare Centers and received diagnoses of mental ilnesses, one case was diagnosed as selective mutism. But it is not clear whether about 0.67(1/149) percent of Hikikomori people have selective mutism because most Hikikomori people do not visit Mental Health and Welfare Center.

Little is known for certain about Hikikomori people with selective mutism. Most writings are their personal experiences or case study. Diamond Online's article is no exception.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Children with SM in evacuation centers

Great earthquake and tsunami hit north-east Japan in March 2011, and myriad of people forced to live in evacuation centers. Evacuees must have included children with selective mutism. How did they spend their daily time?

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent failure to speak in unfamiliar social settings and to unfamiliar people. Typically they are children and can not utter words at schools although they speak normally at their homes.

Evacuation centers were unfamiliar settings for selectively mute children. A typical evacuation center was set up at a gymnasium or a community center. In many cases there were cubicles that separate living space. But  such cubicles were not necessarily placed. So, many selectively mute children must have been surrounded with unfamiliar people.

Images of evacuation centers in Japan
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On the other hand, in many cases, children in evacuation centers lived with their families without cubicles. I suppose they spent a lot of their time close to their families. In other words, they were together with their familiar people.

So, how did the environment affect the children? It is not clear, because nobody researches it.
I suppose one possibility is that they were mute all day long because they were surrounded with unfamiliar people. If so, I feel a pang of sympathy for them. Another possibility is that they spoke freely because they were always with their families. A third possibility is the middle of the first and second possibility. In other words, they spoke a little.

I hope such complex environment helps children to desensitize unfamiliar social setting and people.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Entrance Exams (2)

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Chapter 5 Selective mutism and my high school years

Entrance Exams (2)

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In the former story, I took three college entrance examinations. But I was scheduled to take one more examination. That is the secondary entrance examination to a national university. I put special importance on the examination, because I wanted to enter the national university.

Fortunately, the examination was written examination, not interview examination. So, it did not matter whether I was able to speak smoothly. Even today many Japanese colleges and schools sometimes set interview examination to applicants. So, some Japanese junior high school and high school students with selective mutism have trouble passing entrance examinations.

And I was successful in the entrance examination.

["Tomishige was all smiles"]

Soon after I knew my examination result, I went to my high school to tell the result to my teachers and thank them. But when I arrived at my school in the evening, few teachers remained there. Opening the door of the teachers' room, I found only one teacher worked. He was a teacher of the third year of the school, not my homeroom teacher. As soon as he noticed me, he walked straight up to me and said, "Congratulations, Tomishige!" He added that the college had already informed the high school of a list of students who passed the examination. He offered his hand, so I shook hands with him.

I think most students will have a happy smile if they are in the same situation. But I didn't. I was emotionless. That must be odd. I had studied hard to pass the entrance examination of prestigious colleges since I entered a high school. Now I achieved my ambition. But my selective mutism caused me to be emotionless even when I were in such a happy situation.

After I went home, my homeroom teacher called me. "Congratulations on passing your exam, Tomishige! One teacher told me you went to high school some time ago. He said Tomishige was all smiles. I felt very sorry for going home early."

I was surprised. It was contrary to the truth. I did not know why the teacher said such a thing. Perhaps he told a lie to her, because he wanted her to be pleased. Like the Japanese proverb says, Uso mo houben (Circumstances may justify a lie). Another possibility was that he confused me with other students.

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In this way, my high school life ended. Next, I went to university.

(To be continued)

Index of SM story


Friday, July 22, 2011

Selective mutism and developmental disorder

I've read literature on selective mutism written by Japanese researchers. From what I read, some recent Japanese researchers explore the relationship between selective mutism and developmental disorder.

Common diagnostic criteria, such as DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10, distinguish selective mutism from pervasive developmental disorder. If symptoms of selective mutism occurs during the course of pervasive developmental disorder, that is diagnosed as pervasive developmental disorder, not selective mutism based on anxiety. So, it is important to distinguish both disorders.

Indeed, there seem to be many mute children with pervasive developmental disorders. According to a famous Norwegian research, 68.5 per cent of selectively mute children met the diagnostic criteria for developmental disorder/delay compared with 13.0% in the control group (Kristensen, 2000).

And Shintaro Sagawa, a member of Hinode City Board of Education based on Tokyo, writes that he had seen many mute children, but they are not necessarily silent because of psychological problems. He writes some of them have many difficulties, including developmental disorder (Sagawa, 2006).

So, if you find a selectively child, it may be better to consider the possibility of pervasive developmental disorder. But Yasuhiro Watanabe and Sakakida Rie, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist, points out that it is difficult to distinguish both disorders (Watanabe and Sakaida, 2009). In case you do not know whether the child can be diagnosed as selective mutism or pervasive developmental disorder, it may be better to keep both possibilities in mind.


Kristensen, H. (2000). Selective mutism and comorbidity with developmental disorder/delay, anxiety disorder, and elimination disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 39(2), 249-256.

Sagawa, S. (2006). Bamen kanmokuji heno approach. L'Esprit d'aujourd'hui. 471, 55-61.

Watanabe, U. and Sakakida, R. (2009). Four cases of selective mutism examined from in light of the austic spectrum disorders. Japanese journal of child and adolescent psychiatry. 50(5), 491-503.