Imagine a world where you can talk perfectly freely, normally and maybe even eloquently in some places, such as your home, but you cannot talk at school or work or social situations. The words just won’t come out, the harder you try, the worse it may become. It’s the stuff of nightmares, a bit like falling from a height but you wake before you crash-land, only this is not a dream, it’s the living hell for around 1 in 150 children in our nurseries and schools.
Libby Hill, Speech and Language Therapist, says, ‘Our knowledge of the condition has changed massively: we used to think they were choosing not to talk and were wanting to manipulate the adults around them’.
‘SM is now seen as a manifestation of social anxiety or phobia, occurring in temperamentally predisposed children who are unable to take normal life events in their stride, particularly when the reactions of others reinforce silence rather than speech,’ (Maggie Johnson, 2012).
This means they may WANT to speak but are unable to and they may become increasingly wary of any form of communication which could lead to an expectation to speak.
The national charity for information and research into Selective Mutism (SM)SMIRA are having their national awareness campaign during October, when people from all over the UK will be holding awareness events to try to increase the understanding of this very much mis-understood condition.
To raise awareness here in Staffordshire, Libby Hill and the team from Small Talk Speech and Language Therapy are providing a FREE training day at Fountains Primary in Burton on 28th October. 'We really want to help raise the seriousness of the problem but also show that there’s lots we can do to help children and young adults,’ says Libby. There are parents and professionals coming from as far away as Bristol and London.
Libby is very excited to be able to include Natasha Dale, from Uttoxeter, in the training day. Natasha suffered terribly as a child and teenager with the condition which really blighted her early life. Fortunately with her family’s and friends’ support, she has worked hard to over-come this and one of her challenges is to speak about it in public.
‘Natasha is a great example of how awful life can be with SM but also how it can be over-come,’ reports Libby. ‘I work with many teenagers who feel that they can’t access the usual rites of passage of teenagers e.g. taking driving lessons, interviews for jobs/college etc They can’t see a way around the chains of SM. However, when we work on small steps, we can achieve what they really want. Natasha is a perfect example of what can be achieved’
Small Talk have the first speech therapy dog in the UK, chocolate Labrador, Ralph, who helps in their work with SM. He is a shoulder (or neck) to cry on or he takes part in therapy programmes. There is a wealth of evidence to show the power of animals in reducing stress and he loves to help.
If you have a child who does not talk at nursery or school, she may not be shy and may not ‘grow out of it’. It may well be Selective Mutism.
For more information: www.private-speech-therapy.co.uk
Natasha’s Facebook page Selective Mutism Recovery - Natasha's Journey