Welcome to my guest blogger this week: a parent of a child who had Selective Mutism (an extreme form of social anxiety disorder). Please note that her name is not included to protect the privacy of her child.
I remember when my son was 2 and he would sing and dance in our family room, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are gray”. He showed no signs of anxiety. Sometime after he turned 3, he began suffering from Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism is not just some phase that a child will outgrow, it is a form of social anxiety disorder in which a child speaks at home but is unable to talk outside the home or with others present. Many people have never come across a selectively mute child. I have also discovered many people are not familiar with this disorder.
It took my son seven years to overcome this anxiety disorder. Seven years of complete silence in school, in stores, bowling alleys, roller rinks, birthday parties, other people’s homes, etc. My son only talked and laughed in the comfort of his own home and around his immediate family. With everyone else and everywhere else he was silent.
Selective Mutism is hard on a child. Imagine the toll it takes on the child’s emotional well-being, as they sit in school 7 ½ hours a day for five days a week in complete silence.
I never expected to raise a child with an anxiety disorder. After all, no mother wants their child to have any difficulties in their life. We were lucky to have help from his teachers, family and one fantastic speech and language therapist. I remember the day when the therapist had my son talk into a recorder to record his answer to a question the teacher would be asking that day. When the teacher asked the question, he pressed play and in his voice, through the recorder, he answered it. This was the first time anyone in the classroom had heard his voice. This was a big step for my son, letting people hear his voice. There are many different strategies that help ease the anxiety, but the one that helped him the most is the “stimulus fading” technique. This technique is gradual exposure to conversation using different methods and tools (such as a recorder, a video), and slowly introducing another person in the conversation.
During those years of therapy, I learned a lot about anxiety, patience and understanding. My advice to other parents is to never give up on your child –please don’t ever give up! It’s been six years since my son overcame Selective Mutism. What I love is that some of his friends have been friends with him since the days he could not speak. In two years he’ll be in college, and he has the voice to get there! I trust God’s purpose in his life, so I’m sure what he went through will be used for something great in the future.