Autistic adult Sonja explains how a lack of understanding of her communication differences has affected her life. Through research and understanding she thinks this can change.

When I got my autism diagnosis as an adult I communicated with my GP about the referral in writing — I could not have spoken about it face to face.

Growing up I barely spoke outside the house – not at school and not later at art college. I knew that I should speak but could not, even though I wanted desperately to fit in.

I am autistic and also have selective mutism (SM).  It’s hard for me to say how much of that is to do with autism, but both affect the way I see the world and communicate.

My academic achievement at school and college suffered, as did my mental health, and sense of self — I did not know that there was anyone else like me.

Art piece by Sonja entitled: 'An invitation to speak'. This piece was created to raise awareness of communication differences.

I didn't start to understand my communication difficulties until my late 20s. What I read about Selective Mutism was negative and dehumanizing.  Nobody was talking positively about the need to develop support or adapt for people like me.

I wish that there had been more understanding and kindness from the people around me at school and at college, that would have helped me so much.

Learning to cope

Over the years I have developed a number of coping strategies, some more successful than others. My skill as an artist and my passion has helped some of the disadvantages I experience. A lot of the communicating I do at work is by email, it slows communication down and gives me time to process things. I may not 'appear' to have difficulties now, but I am still anxious talking on the phone and speaking to some people. I lose speech when stressed and can’t count the number of opportunities I have had to turn down because of that.  However, I have achieved things I never thought I would.

Looking to the future

I’d love to see some research that looks at ways parents, schools, and workplaces can make adjustments for people that cannot speak. I know that there are some simple, cost effective things that can be done. I hope that in the future society can help people to learn, work have friends and communicate, even if they don’t speak. There is #morethan1way2speak

Read more personal experiences of Selective Mutism at the iSpeak website.

I would not have felt comfortable being in a video or speaking, so I have written this.