Let’s Learn About: Selective Mutism

Meet Jack.

Jack is a sweet, silly, smart child, and is the son of a dear friend of mine over at Zen Parenting– but I only know this because of her pictures and videos, which are shared through her lens; if I was to meet Jack in person, he wouldn’t speak to me or probably look at me at all- and that’s completely okay. Not only because bodily autonomy is imperative, but because Jack has recently been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism, which causes children to basically freeze in the presence of strangers, and/or in groups.

“Children who are selective mutes can hear, see, and even talk, just as well as any typical child their age. The difference is that these children select whom they will and will not speak to in a more severe way than would be normally expected. It’s not unusual for a kid who is a selective mute to speak normally at home, where only close family members are present. That same child could select to never utter a single word at school, to teachers, to peers, or even to their parents. The reasons why the child makes this selection are complex, and may be different from one child to the next.” via families.com

Parenting a child who cannot speak around others presents unique challenges, and these families are not alone.

“The condition – that affects 1 in 150 children in the UK – means, while able to speak fluently and freely at some times, those affected remain consistently silent at others. It can be debilitating, humiliating and interfere with educational development.  While most cases are solved with early intervention from therapists, sympathy and time, others progress throughout adult life. Experts blame the later on a lack of awareness for a disorder that is frequently misunderstood, often as shyness or even extreme surliness.

Alison Wintgens, the national advisor for selective mutism for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists says: “I think that the name is difficult because people still think of the word ‘selective’ in connection with choice. But it is nothing to do with choice. Situational mutism would be a better name. At worst, Isla, who is asthmatic and has dairy and citrus allergies, hasn’t been able to ask for her inhaler or anti histamines at school.”  via The Telegraph

So what are the options for a family with a child with an anxiety disorder, and how can we help?
It just so happens there’s a way, but it requires special medical equipment that his family can’t afford.

“Psychotherapist Aubrey H. Fine has been successfully using therapy animals with special needs children. Dr. Fine had a five year old patient named Diane who was a selective mute. Diane was able to speak when in therapy sessions with Dr. Fine if a therapy dog named “Puppy” was present. Diane was taught what to say to call the dog over to her, and would speak those words. The therapy animal provided a safe way for Diane to begin to use her voice.” via families.com.

Yup! A pup! I can personally attest to how much adopting Kaya has helped with my anxiety and PTSD after losing Patrick, and there are reading programs in libraries across the country because of how dogs helps children remain calm while trying to form words. There are SO MANY REASONS dogs are amazingly therapeutic- but Jack doesn’t just need *a* dog, he needs a specifically trained animal to help with his diagnosed condition.

“A dog would be trained to provide barrier control, which, if nothing else, would give Jack a peace of mind he’s never yet experienced in his short life. “The freedom that a service dog would offer Jack would be inestimable. The peace of mind alone that the dog would offer Jack and ourselves would change our lives immensely,” said Amy. “Peace for Jack is peace for us.” They will be able to spend more time as a family and go to places and events that they have not been able to attend in the past.

The highly specialized training of service dogs like this can be expensive, and the Browns already face a financial burden covering the costs of therapy not paid by insurance, as well as travel to and from appointments. Unfortunately, Amy is unable to work outside of the home, so the family has turned to Red Basket to raise $20,000 to purchase Jack’s service dog from Little Angels and make their dream of peace a reality. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation and share his story today!”

If you’re like me, you probably only have $5 you can donate, that’s AWESOME PLEASE AND THANK YOU SO MUCH JUST CLICK HERE. If you’re also like me, you’ll know how much the small efforts of a global community can help in times of need; Amy was there, advocating for me before and after Patrick’s passing, and I’ll never be able to repay her for such kindness and support- except to encourage you to say thank you for me by giving a cup of coffee’s worth to her family in their time of need.  You can follow Jack’s progress on his Facebook page at Little Angel for Jack.

Jack, Amy, Zack, and I thank you so much!

More on Selective Mutism:

Dos and don’ts

Do: Acknowledge the child’s speech difficulty in an accepting and relaxed way, while stressing it is only temporary

Do: Encourage communication with no pressure to actually speak e.g. through gesture

Do: Prepare the child for changes and transitions well in advance, with photos, visits and pictorial timetables

Do: Rewards efforts to communicate or participate in whatever form that may take

Do not: be offended when they remain silent

Do not: Ask direct questions, especially when others are watching or waiting for an answer

Do not: Give special attention for being silent

*advice from SMIRA (Selective Mutism Information & Research Association). For more information go to www.smira.org.uk

Additional reading:

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