I wanted to share this email I’d received from a mother whose eldest daughter had presented with selective mutism and the efforts she made not only to help her daughter, but to help other children with selective mutism. I rarely get blind submissions for products and books, I thought this one seemed worth investigating. There’s a link to her site at the end, with her books and also some free resources for your SM toolbox.
My first daughter was extremely shy and clingy. When kids are young we look at that and we try to push them forward.
“Go, on, talk to the nice library lady. Smile!”
I wanted to give her more chances to interact with others so I enrolled her in this pre-school a couple of mornings a week and she simply would not talk.
At first, we thought that maybe she was having trouble with English since I was talking to her in French at home. But after a month, she would talk to me in English when she got home. It kept going on for a while. Everyone said she was just shy, but eventually it became apparent that it was much more than that.
There was a huge disconnect between the person she was at home and the person she became in certain settings, school being one of them.
I kept trying to understand why this wonderful, bubbly, creative girl who was a chatterbox at home, couldn’t say anything to her friends at school. Why she couldn’t ask to go to the washroom or even say one word. Everyone I turned to would tell me the same thing, it will pass, she’s just shy.
And then came a defining moment. It was a sunny day and I had come to pick her up and she was playing in this sand box with the other kids. She was so happy, as only kids can be when they are having fun playing with dirt. I asked her to say goodbye to her teacher so that we could leave. She didn’t. I sat on one of those little red plastic chairs and did one of those horrible mommy things we sometimes do.
I told her: “I am not leaving until you say goodbye to your teacher.”
There was a look in her eyes that I will never forget for as long as I live. Pure terror and panic. Fear. A dear caught in the headlights. It finally clicked for me. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to do it, she couldn’t it. What I had asked her was beyond possible.
I came home, I put on a Disney movie for her and started searching the internet. After half an hour, I knew exactly what my daughter had, thanks to someone else’s description of their daughter. Selective Mutism. They talked about years and years of therapy, of kids who didn’t talk at school until they were in grade three. I sat on the stairs and I cried. I felt as if I had broken my daughter, as if I had failed her.
If you don’t know me well, you might thing I’m someone who gives up easily, but I’m a mama bear. So like all these amazing other superhero parents out there, I put on my cape and I did everything I could to get my child the help she needed. As I was going through this process of learning what she was going through and how to deal with it, I realized something.
I was exactly like my daughter as a child (except for the mutism part). I was a very scared and anxious child. How did I deal with my own fear? I folded myself into non-existence. I became an origami, so small and invisible until I believed I was too small for the world to touch. I became a shadow of the person I could be.
So, as I lent my daughter my voice until she found hers, I realized I was doing a lot more than that. I was giving myself a voice too.
In the process of therapy and working with the school, I came to a harsh realization. There was very little material out there that was created for the child. There were a few books for therapists, a few for parents, and maybe one for a child. And the cover was so bad, I didn’t want to get it. My daughter didn’t want to get it. I realized she needed a friend who understood what she was going through.
So, within a couple of weeks, my first book, Lola’s Words Disappeared was created.
When I read her story for the first time, she looked at me with her serious blue eyes and said: “She’s just like me, mom.”
I had finally created words and images that she could relate to. We could use the story to pace her progress, to share ideas of what Lola might have done. We read the story at school and this helped tremendously with the other kids asking her why she was not talking.
The more tools she needed, the more I found out that I was the perfect person to create these tools. She was the catalyst that helped me recover my own voice and reminded me of what I was great at. I kept working with the teacher and the therapist and within 6 months of starting kindergarten, she was talking in school. The teacher called me and she was crying on the phone because she had finally heard my daughter’s voice for the first time.
It wasn’t easy. When she started, she couldn’t look at the teacher. She couldn’t raise her hand without feeling like everyone was watching her. We would have worry boxes filled with drawings of her having to raise her hand or give a paper to the librarian. She would have accidents on a daily or weekly basis because she couldn’t ask to the washroom. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but I am certain that there is nothing any parent wouldn’t do to witness that epic moment when you see your child spread their wings.
She started grade 2 last year and she is now the president of her class. She asks for main roles in plays now and even though I know the signs of anxiety in the way she twists her hair or how the floor is sometimes easier to look at, she has not stopped and will not stop. She now lives in a world where the dragons of her past have no hold on her present or future. As she continued to spread her wings, I continued to spread mine. What started as one book to help my child has grown into many more books to help many more children, including a boy version of Lola’s book and free downloadable tools to help with different aspects of anxiety. These books are now being used at the center for child development and mental health in Montreal and are making their way into the hands of parents and therapists.
The thing about selective mutism is that it is just the tip of the iceberg. The ‘talking’ part kind of takes care of itself once children learn how to deal with the anxiety part. It is a daily exercise in showing up and putting on our armor, in reminding ourselves that we are bigger than whatever we are faced with. It is a daily ritual of courage. A constant building of wings. The battle is won when we tap into each child’s indestructible desire to bloom.
I wish you courage on this journey and faith in your child and your own ability to grow and flourish,