From the moment my middle child stepped foot inside the gates of her kindergarten, she stopped speaking. Now, she’s going into year four at the same school and still she does not speak.
At home she speaks non-stop and man, she has a lot to say.
It’s just within the confines of the school environment that she goes silent.
When it first happened, we spoke extensively with a speech therapist and was told our gorgeous chatterbox was a select mute.
This means that for reasons she will not explain to us she has decided that she doesn’t want to use her voice in front of specific people or in specific places.
At first, it was a coping strategy for anxiety. It was her way of dealing with, and feeling in control of, the overwhelming fear of being left at kindergarten and then school.
She set a very strict rule – not to speak – and now she’s unsure how to break it. She’s also worried that speaking now will only draw additional attention to herself.
Slowly over the years, she has loosened her strict rules – she now speaks at school to my husband and I, her sisters and two school friends.
With everyone else she has developed, with the help of her peers and teachers, her own form of communication. There’s lots of nodding, pointing, facial expressions and much dabbing. And she gets involved in class discussions by writing down her responses or using gestures. Sometimes she’s recorded herself on the iPad and allowed her most cared-for teachers to watch.
She is popular with classmates, so much so last year she was voted her class Prime Minister with a strong platform of policies, one which involved the teacher being forced to sit on the ground with all the other students for the entire day, while my girl was propped proudly up on her chair.
Scholastically she is above average in her class and for her age overall, across a cross section of fields – science, maths, spelling and comprehension. She is a prolific reader, keen learner, creative and an attentive listener. She plays school netball and soccer and most importantly she is strong of conviction, questioning and empathic.
At home she is consumed by news and current affairs. And when she’s not hanging out with her sisters, she’s busy customising and then selling her Pet Shops on eBay.
Yet, still she will not speak at school.
We’ve had many meetings with her teachers, we’ve done lots of research and we’ve tried many tactics to encourage her to break her “no speaking rule”. And every year it seems her teacher makes it their challenge to get her to speak, but to no avail.
We’ve even used some pretty unconventional ways to break the ice when getting her to speak to a couple of her best mates. This mostly involved them running around yelling swear words at the top of their lungs. It’s worked with a couple of her friends, but I doubt we could get the whole school in on the action.
But here’s the thing. While I desperately wish it was different. While I wish with all my being that she never felt the crippling fear and anxiety that started this path for her, I know that until she decides to make the change – I can’t pressure her to talk.
Instead, I am her biggest champion. She is not a charity case. I stand by her and protect her against the concerned faces, and the sad head-tilt people do when they talk about her.
Because you know what – she’s an awesome kid. She’s bright. She’s tremendously eccentric in her approach to life. She’s politically astute and cares about others. She is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. And one day when she finds her brave and uses her voice, all those condescending, concerned doubters will find out for themselves just how special she is.
I refuse to let others think of her as somehow flawed or speak in hushed voices about her. She might not speak to you, but that doesn’t mean she’s stupid. She’s more amazing than most other people ever will be.
Watch this space, my middle child will change the world. And I’ll be standing right beside her cheering her on.