Parents of Students with Selective Mutism Wrote a Letter to Universities, Hoping for Flexibility in Admission

By Xiaoyun Lin, Liberty Times
Taipei Taiwan, May 11, 2019

One in 140 children suffers from selective mutism. The Selective Mutism Association of Taiwan (SMAT) wrote an open letter to universities. They explained that many students with selective mutism cannot take face-to-face oral exams and that some may even be unable to take written exams in unfamiliar settings. The SMAT hopes that universities in Taiwan will become aware of this group of students and offer the flexibility needed for their participation in the admission process.

The SMAT issued the letter on the eve of Mother’s Day amidst the recent controversies surrounding the changes in the nation-wide university admission process. They hope that students with special needs including those with selective mutism are not overlooked during the policy overhaul aimed at providing more diversified access to university. For example, programs have been offered for students who are disadvantaged in standardized exams or economically challenged.

While selective mutism is not rare, it is rarely understood. People with selective mutism behave normally when relaxed but become mute and frozen or even panicking once anxiety kicks in. The typical example is a child who is talkative at home but completely mute at school. The earlier a child with selective mutism gets help, the easier it is for him to overcome this condition. However, due to a lack of awareness and resources, many of them are left untreated and develop school phobia, social anxiety or depression when they become teenagers or adults.

In 2017, a student with selective mutism, instead of going to a centralized site, was allowed at the last minute to take the entrance exam to high school at the exact same location he was used to in his original school. He was thus spared panic and scored well. This marks the first such example in Taiwan’s special education history. In the recently published We Have Selective Mutism, But We Have Something to Say, the first book written by selective mutism sufferers in Taiwan, Rochelle states that had she taken the entrance exams to university she would have failed to show any of her potential. She would not have been able to take oral exams and would have frozen and panicked during written exams. Fortunately, she entered her dream department through a special admission program based on past school records.

Anita Huang, chairperson of the SMAT, said, “Amidst the protests launched by parents regarding university admission, we mothers of special needs children have a very different focus. While others worry about whether their children do well in the exams, we worry about whether our children are able to take exams at all. The universities have been rightly increasing access for students with less resources as they often need to strive harder to achieve the same exam score. This supports universities' mission to encourage social mobility. We hope special needs students are considered in the same light to enable them to pursue their dreams.”

Anita Huang quoted from the aforementioned book, “What entering university means is that one gets an opportunity, through his own efforts, to choose how he wants to live his life. The support of the educational system means that everyone is treated equally and empowered to explore the world. Even a slight adjustment has unimaginable power. Please give an opportunity to special needs people. Their feeling of ‘I can do it’ is fire and a friendly environment is coal. When they meet, they can light up hope in the darkness of the night.”

The SMAT proposed that, according to the Selective Mutism Resource Manual, in principle selective mutism students should be allowed modes of examination that have worked in their past experience. Actual measures may differ for each student, including extended time, writing or typing instead of speaking in oral exams, voice or video recording at home (or other locations where the student is at ease) instead of oral exams, oral exams conducted by a teacher whom the student is already able to speak to, parental assistance during oral exams, and alternative sites for written exams. For example in the UK, students with selective mutism and social phobia can take exams at home or in a public location.

Photo source: Selective Mutism Information & Research Association, UK (SMiRA)
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Photo source: SMiRA