View Full Version : Living with muteness long-term

04-24-2016, 10:14 PM
I have a character who's mute, but not deaf. The cause of his muteness is magical, so this isn't something that can really be treated by real-world therapies. There's nothing physically wrong.

He gets by with a combination of gestures and written notes, but when no easy solution to his problem can be found, he has to accept that this could be a permanent problem, or that he might never regain his voice completely. He does learn to communicate with is telepathic girlfriend, but relying on his girlfriend to be a translator makes him feel dependent on her.

I'm trying to learn more about how someone would deal with this, especially socially, long-term. For example, would learning sign language be a viable option for him, or is that not really useful or viable unless you're also deaf or part of the Deaf community? What options would he have, especially without going to a doctor? (He technically could go to a doctor or speech therapist, but it might raise questions since there's no apparent cause for his condition. And he knows that medical treatment and therapy won't help.)

04-25-2016, 02:31 AM
Keyboard voice synthesizer. He may sound like Stephen Hawking, but they're in use by a lot of people who cannot speak for one reason or another.

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04-25-2016, 03:50 AM
I did a bit of research on this for my first novel, the only difference being that my story was historical fiction in the 14th century. I ended up having her use a personal form of sign language with her family, and learning to write to express her loneliness (realizing, of course, a girl who could write was an anomaly in those times). Something I learned that may be helpful to you, is that there are many sub-groups within the deaf community, some of whom would not want a non-deaf mute among them. Some embrace the deaf culture to the point that they would not identify with a non-deaf person.

Perhaps he can employ a person who can translate his sign language to words (maybe still too dependent). Tablet/phone apps are currently available. (http://www.iphonelife.com/blog/5/app-helps-mute-people-communicate-receives-award-ces) The National Institute of Deafness and Other Disorders (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/assistive-devices-people-hearing-voice-speech-or-language-disorders) may also give you ideas.

Perhaps he could explain his problem as a psychological one. He can go to therapy, but knowing it won't work, wants to pursue an alternate way of speaking while he "works on his issues."

04-25-2016, 04:29 AM
I think that sign language would only really be of use if he's surrounded by people who understand sign language. If not a voice synthesizer, how about a tablet with a text-to-speech function? Do they make them as an app for a phone? That would stop him from having to wave his writing pad around and wait for people to read it.
As to the telepathic girlfriend, not only might he feel dependent, but I'll bet it would make him look dependent, as well. I've heard that this is a complaint of many disabled people, that others automatically defer to their supposedly 'able-bodied' companion. I imagine that might get to him after a while, people assuming that she's automatically the speaker for the pair.

I don't know what you have in mind for his personality, but, unless it's totally out-of-line, he might try cultivating the image of the 'strong, silent type'? Rather than trying to keep up a flow of 'chatter', he could try limiting himself to nodding, facial expressions and enigmatic looks, not as though he were straining for words, but as though he just didn't 'do' idle chatter?
It might be a strain for him, but lessen people's expectations. If, of course, he's already a friendly, talkative guy, this might be confusing to those around him.

04-25-2016, 04:44 AM
My dad's health deteriorated to the point that he couldn't speak. He wrote for a while, but the constant shaking in his hands prevented that, too. At the very end, he had a computer, but mostly it was a matter of the people who knew him learning to pick up on the cues that he gave off for certain things. Unofficial sign language. Blink one for yes and two for no. Look at the thing you want, etc.

04-25-2016, 06:36 AM
Learning Sign would work for him - but he'd only be able to communicate with people who know Sign. It's a full language, and obviously most prevalent in the D/deaf community, but there are plenty of hearing people who know it, from relatives of the deaf to people who just wanted to learn the language. Deaf people don't, in my experience, have anything but welcome for hearing signers.

It's not really something you're liable to run into people who know though, on a daily basis, unless you're living like, by Galludet or something.

I dunno what your character would do, as it's such an unusual situation. The best book I know dealing with mutism is about an actual teenager with elective mutism - Murphy's Boy, by Torey Hayden. She's a teacher and researcher who specialized in elective mutism for a time; the book is about one of her charges. She's brilliant btw, has a bunch of books about various kids she worked with in her career.

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04-25-2016, 06:39 AM
See Will Shetterly's character Wolfboy in the Border Town books, particularly Shetterly's Never Never.

And PM member Chase who is both fluent in sign and teaches it.

04-29-2016, 05:17 AM
Just saw this today, which might help you sort out tech:


05-08-2016, 11:28 PM
Thanks for the input, everyone!

My character definitely cultivates a "strong, silent type" image. The biggest challenge for him with his condition is that he's a professional singer and entertainer, and obviously losing his voice makes it impossible for him to continue that as he had been. But he's very charismatic, and he's able to re-brand himself as a piano player and maintain a pretty full social life and sex life using non-verbal communication.

But he has a very small circle of people whom he's close to, and I'm mainly interested in how he would work on communicating with them. They would all be willing to at least try to learn sign language for his sake.

05-09-2016, 12:18 AM
Hmm. I've only known two girls with "selective" mutism. I really don't know if it was a manipulation tactic or from some type of trauma or what, but just to toss out another idea.