The Missing Rock Theory (A Simple Yet Powerful Analogy on Selective Mutism in Autistic People)

A close-up image of a person holding a rock. Text reads, "The "Missing Rock" Theory of Autistic Selective Mutism.

When I saw this post on Instagram the other day, I immediately reached out to the author and asked if I could use it here on my website. After reading it over a few times, I decided to call it the “missing rock” theory on selective mutism*.

*Important: Select mutism is NOT selective on the part of the autistic person, it’s selective on the part of the autistic person’s brain. It is something that happens to us, not something we can control.

I got the word “theory” from Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, which is an analogy (not a theory) that describes the amount of energy a person with chronic illness has on any given day by comparing units of energy to spoons.

Anyway, now here you have the Missing Rock Theory, and even though I came up with the name, the credit for the invention of said analogy goes entirely to Sharon Stone of The Grace Haven (more about her at the end of the article).

Here’s what she had to say:

Have you ever had your suffering invalidated?

If so, you’re in good company. I call it “Window-Invalidation,” because people will peer through little windows of our lives and think they own our story.

They think these screens we all look at give us the whole picture. They think “if they are sharing this, than they deserve to know my thoughts on it.” 

To be clear, by saying “they,” I am not saying  that you and I are perfectly innocent. We have ALL done this.

Let me give you an example. Libby’s struggle with language has been invalidated SO many times. Yes, it is true, Libby can talk. That little bit is clear through the window of her life you all see.

Here’s what you don’t see though…

Imagine your words were rocks. You could only hold about 10-15 rocks in your hands, before having to drop some. Any rock you drop, you instantly forget the word it represents. You cannot reach down to pick it up, even if it represents something you desperately need. 

A young girl with dark hair and a hoodie curled up on the floor crying while her therapist looks on.

You might try and use a rock you have, and say something like “apple sauce,”  but really you need water. Everyone hands you apple sauce, and the dryness of your throat begins to send shock waves down your whole body.

Those shock waves cause you to lose even more of your rocks. “Car!” You shout, but no one brings you water. Your palms start to sweat, and oops…there goes the rest of your rocks. 

Now the world seems to be closing in, and no one can understand how to help put out the fire enveloping your body. WATER your mind screams, but all that comes out of your mouth are real screams. 

Hours of screaming pass, your body is now EXHAUSTED. With your last bit of strength, you see a tiny pebble near you. You pick it up, and faintly see what it says. FINALLY. “Water” you whisper. The fire in your body begins to feel like a dwindling flicker, but with that, your joy has also now vanished….

You look for comfort, for understanding, for acceptance. What you hear instead is “I heard her talk, so clearly she can’t have autism.”

Friends, let’s put on kindness and compassion. Let’s listen before we speak…because some of us, may still be looking for the rocks that we dropped.

About the author:

Sharon Stone lives in Washington State with her husband and their 3 wonderful children. Her passion is advocating for autism acceptance and support, all thanks to her amazing autistic daughter, Libby. She writes about their family @thegracehaven.

Follow me on Instagram.

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