My Friend Daniel Doesn’t Talk is a helpful children’s book about selective mutism, written by Sharon L. Longo and illustrated by Jane Bottomley. This book is very easy to read and understand and the illustrations add more of an insight in to what it is like to have SM. Although this book is very short and simple, it really focuses on the key points of stereotypical selective mutism. We’re first faced with a paragraph about some of the behavioural characteristics and signs of SM and anxiety, “He played with his shirt collar while his mother talked to our teacher, and his face was frozen”. Immediately we are let into the world of a child with selective mutism and are encouraged to almost feel the difficulty these children must experience.
The main aim and purpose of this book is explained to be, to help others who don’t have SM, but know someone who does, understand the condition.
Having had selective mutism myself, throughout childhood and adolescence, I felt this book was somewhat relateable and insightful. I particularly liked that it focused on Daniel himself, his behaviour, his anxiety and how others perceive him, as well as Daniel’s friend. I was really warmed by reading how SM can affect the other children in the class. I think it’s important and useful to take the time to read this book, especially if you yourself have SM, and especially if you’re a child, because it allows you to see that people want to understand, they want to help and they will accept and befriend you. Talking is not a necessity in gaining and maintaining friendships and the people who matter, the people who care about you (your friends) will remain patient and understanding as long as needed.
Daniel’s friend was full of curiosity and asked his mother many questions about Daniel and his SM. When curiosity about Daniel was the topic of the school playground, Daniel’s friend explained, “My Mom said some kids are so scared to talk that their words can’t come out”. Daniel’s friend was incredibly interested in learning about how he could help and be a good friend to Daniel, as were other children in Daniel’s class.
The only concern I have with this book is that it is very much based and focused on stereotypes. Nonetheless, this book still allows us some degree of insight into the condition from a child’s perspective. However, there is one part of the story that I don’t feel too comfortable with, “I’m going to be extra nice to him so he’ll talk to me one day”, as much as this can be read in a completely positive light, and indeed there is much positivity behind it, it also holds some concerns as it is potentially suggesting that there is a pressure to talk if a person is being nice to you, as well as giving the impression that a child with SM is to be treated as special with added attention. Although, of course, these comments and acts of apparent kindness do happen in schools, so I think it does hold some importance in being included in the book. It is important to remember that most children with SM want to be included, they want to be treated fairly and given the support and understanding they need, however they do not want to be singled out. A little further into the book, this is pointed out and rightly so, “we shouldn’t make a big deal when Daniel speaks. That would just make him feel more upset” which I think is an incredibly important key point.
Most of all, I thought the guide for parents and teachers, at the back of the book, is extremely useful. This guide explains that this book carries the theme of acceptance, diversity and equality, which is reassuring. I would agree, this book definitely not only helps children who have SM themselves, but it could be very helpful to children who do not have SM themselves, but know someone who does. It answers many questions and solves the confusion felt by many children trying to understand someone who doesn’t speak. Just as importantly, this guide also gives very brief but very accurate points and information on how teachers and parents can help and support their pupil, or child, with SM.
Overall, I would say that this book’s main purpose includes, to reassure children with SM that they are not going to be forced to speak, people will be patient and understanding and true friends will be supportive. At the same time it helps children without SM to understand children with selective mutism, or perhaps even it encourages other children to embrace and accept difference more broadly. My Friend Daniel Doesn’t Talk is a beneficial read and I would recommend anyone affected by SM to read it, whether that be first or second hand; children with SM, children without SM, teachers and parents.
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