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.
I have so much to say on this. I am a 75 year-old (yep, a real oldie!) retired teacher who was a ‘selective mute’ during my early years at school. I eventually overcame my mutism – sorry, just how I did it I do not know! It popped up a few times when I was a little older – when under stress. But As the years progressed, I became an outspoken person (!) and had a long, successful and happy teaching career.
I would just like you to know that your little one WILL find her public voice (eventually) and perhaps end up a bit like me…someone who was (& is) able to speak in public and who has a reputation of talking too much!
I would like to add that I was the second eldest of five kids, one of whom was disabled and there were a few ups and downs in our childhoods, but I was always looked on as the slightly eccentric one – but also the ‘clever’ one. (Make of that what you will).
All will be well!
My daughter was a selective mute until she turned 12. She spoke to me and her brother and that’s it. She eventually spoke to other children and the first day of high school to grown ups. She talked when she was ready.
By the way, we had all sorts of counselling, eager teachers and rewards in place – she was not ready – they were useless.
My daughter was very similar. I still remember our first parent teacher interview for pre-school where the teachers told us they were concerned about how quiet she was. We were so shocked because at home she never stopped talking. The no talking continued when she started kindergarten. Her teacher was a family friend and when my daughter saw her outside of school she would happily chatter away, but in class she was a rabbit in the headlights. Over time she talked a little more, but even in high school her teachers would complain that she was too quiet. This irked me no end, especially when one teacher told me this behaviour was perceived as her being sulky and uncooperative (the opposite of what she really was ). My response to this was that not everyone in this world is an extrovert and perhaps she should read up on introverts, shyness and anxiety before making further judgement. My daughter survived school thanks to a strong friendship group and a few understanding teachers who made allowances for her – like letting her do presentations privately at lunchtime instead of to the whole class. She also had some teachers who knew how to get the best out of her by not putting her on the spot and giving her time to prepare responses to verbal questions. She finished year 12 with multiple commendations and awards. She is now a child care worker and the children love her quiet, gentle nature. I hope this gives you some comfort that your daughter will find her path in time.
I love your daughter’s story, Bianca. I must say that despite having taught for 50 years, I have yet to meet such an intriguing individual as her. However, all strength to her and her Mum.