We began our journey with selective mutism (SM) in 2014. I remember the day I realized that my young daughter (I’ll call her Buttercup) had selective mutism. I was working in a Pediatrician’s office and someone was talking on the phone to a patient about selective mutism. I knew almost nothing about SM, but when I heard the words “selective mutism” something clicked in my brain. I gathered some information about SM and it totally made sense! The description fit Buttercup’s behaviors exactly. She was bubbly and very verbal at home with family, but the moment someone else was around she fell silent. If someone approached and began to talk with her she would hide behind me and cling tightly to my clothes. If I talked to her in public she would only answer by whispering in my ear. It took her a very long time to warm up to new people, but even when she did, she still would not speak to them. I had no idea at the time how much of an impact selective mutism would have on each member of our family, especially Buttercup’s younger sister (I’ll call her Petunia) who would follow in her footsteps.
I felt relieved to know that Buttercup was not the only kid out there struggling to speak. I felt happy to find out that there were some things I could do to help her overcome her speech anxiety. Yet, I felt completely overwhelmed with prospect of doing the things that would help her. I felt guilty that perhaps some things I had done, like answering for her as she stood silent and frozen, enabled her cycle of silence.
Over the next year, we struggled to know how to help Buttercup and I started to see some of the same reluctance to speak show up in her sister, Petunia. By the time they were 4 and 5 years old, we knew that the conservative “decrease all the pressure to speak and allow them to open up on their own” approach wasn’t working. I reached out to a local psychologist familiar with SM and we started down a path that has changed our daughter’s lives!
We still are working on certain things, but when I look back I can’t believe the progress that my brave girls have made. I would never have believed that within two years Buttercup and Petunia would speak in their school and church programs. I want to share my hope and what we have learned with parents out there that have children struggling to speak. It’s hard. It takes so much work, but it is worth it. There is always hope!