My youngest daughter Evelena, 10 has 'Selective Mutism'. How I hate that term, it sounds like she should be missing limbs from being partial to a form of mutation! However all limbs intact Select Mutism is:
A severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, such as with classmates at school or to relatives they don't see very often
As a young child she developed as expected and was a happy little girl. Starting reception year at school she settled in well, played, laughed and talked with her friends just like most other children of her age. There most of the similarities stopped as unlike most other children in her class she wasn't participating verbally in the classroom, she didn't answer the teacher, or engage in any eye contact or conversations with him. Voicing his concerns he asked our permission to have her assessed in class, we refused as we believed it to be shyness believing she would eventually talk. After all at home she chattered away nonstop, argued with her brothers and sister and even answered us back! Yes she could be unusually quiet in the company of family and friends but it was no biggie after all her older brother had been a shy little boy, we assumed she took after him.
Fast forward to Year 1 at school and it was the same scenario, complete silence in the classroom. Her only means of communication to the teacher was through her friends, who all automatically spoke for her when required. However, it was clear things were not improving, and I began to think maybe her teacher was right it wasn't just a case of being shy there was more to it.
I began to take more notice of her seeming reluctance to speak. I began to question her about not speaking, asking her why she didn't talk to her teacher? Why this, why that......? She had no real answer; I couldn't seem to get through to her. I tried threatening her if she didn't talk she would be grounded etc., it all failed to work. I became exasperated with it all, I hit a brick wall.
If we were out shopping she would chatter away nonstop until someone we knew approached us, if they said hello to Evelena she would immediately stop talking and her body would become stiff, she would drop her head avoiding any eye contact and would remain like that until they had gone. I would feel so frustrated and somewhat bewildered so would quickly bring any conversation back to me, always imagining how the other person must be think how rude she was, I know I probably would have!
I spent days and night googling her 'symptoms' ticking a lot of boxes led to the term 'Selective Mutism' reading the brief I wondered if this was my daughter? It certainly looked like it, but she wasn't refusing to speak, it seemed like she was actually unable to.
After agreeing to have her assessed in class by a speech therapist a meeting was set up to discuss the findings and way forward. The diagnosis was put to us as Selective Mutism, just as I thought it might be, we were asked lots of questions about our home life I remember really feeling under the' spotlight' as if we were hiding something, had there been any traumatic event in her life was the million dollar question at the time, we couldn't think of anything, it was all a blank, since learning that this is all a myth.
We discussed the best course of action to guide Evelena through her primary school years. It was agreed the school would allocate her a dedicated person to follow a plan called 'Breaking Down the Barriers' a 7 step structured plan for schools working with a child who has Selective Mutism. So our journey and Evelena's began, learning to understand Selective Mutism in order to help her on her way.
Looking back, I remember the enormous guilt I felt for all the times I had got cross and frustrated with her for not speaking, how I used to bang on about what was wrong with her! All the while she was struggling with being unable to speak in certain situations. Don't get me wrong there are still days when I still get frustrated with her and then the guilt sets in, and I have to remind myself she can't help it, plus I am better educated this time round.
To this day I find people confuse my explanation of Selective Mutism with shyness, unlike a readily identifiable disfigurement or a more well known condition few, if any have heard of it, then again why would they? I hadn't until my daughter presented with it.
She is not a child to hide away in a corner and often puts herself forward at school to take part in various drama parts, albeit no speaking part. She happily goes on sleepovers and playdates but still no speaking to adults. She, has however recently voiced how she is desperate to break this cycle as she wants to be like everyone else (her words).
So that's how it all started for us, as a family we have learnt to not ignore or treat her with kid gloves surrounding her Selective Mutism, yes it upsets and frustrates her greatly sometimes but then life can be full of upsets, fears and anxieties we can all have them, it's how we learn to deal with them. Alongside her Selective Mutism come other anxieties, whether they are connected to Selective Mutism or not we don't know.
Please note I am not a professional, therapist or any kind of expert just a mum of a child with Selective Mutism. The resources offered here are not intended to be used instead of seeking professional advice that is something you will need to figure out what is best for your child and seek professional help.