'Why can't she talk?'
Fin couldn't work out why his daughter Katie couldn't talk to anyone except him. Then a holiday changed everything. I worked with Fin to share his story in Take a Break magazine, to raise awareness of mutism.
As we joined her friends in the park, I said to my daughter Katie: ‘Why don’t you say hello?’
She opened her mouth to talk, but no sound came out. Then she buried her head in my legs.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘It’s OK.’
Katie was four and had been living with me since she was two, after her mum and I had separated. Although she would happily chat to me, she didn’t seem able to speak to anyone else. When we went out, she wore a blank expression and seemed clingy. But deep down, I knew it was more than just shyness.
I took her to see the doctor.
‘It sounds like selective mutism,’ he said.
He explained that people with the disorder found it impossible to speak in certain social situations. I didn’t really understand, and I hoped Katie would grow out of it.
In time, she started school and still she wouldn’t speak.
‘We can arrange for her to see a speech therapist,’ her teacher said.
‘But there’s nothing wrong with her speech,’ I said. ‘She talks to me just fine.’
One day, Katie and I were walking to the shops when I bumped into a friend who joined us. By the time we reached the high street and my friend had gone, I noticed Katie’s eyes were filled with tears.
‘What’s wrong?’ I said.
‘I’ve got a stone in my shoe,’ she replied.
As I knelt down and removed the stone, I found myself welling up. Katie had been in pain the whole way, but she hadn’t been able to tell me with my friend there. It made me think of all the times she might have felt poorly or in pain at school but couldn’t say so.
‘Why don’t you talk to anyone?’ I asked.
But her reply was always the same: ‘I try, but I just can’t Daddy.’
It broke my heart.
This year, a couple who ran local charity Days of Sunshine, (PLS KEEP IN IF POSS) told me about a trip they were funding for several families who deserved a break. They knew about Katie’s mutism and asked if we would like to go.
‘We would love to,’ I said.
Months later, we touched down in Tenerife.
On our second day there, we were all having dinner when my ears pricked up. I was sure I’d heard Katie talk. Then I turned and saw her smiling and chatting to one of the younger children. A lump rose in my throat.
I knew you could do it, I thought.
Next day, as Katie played by the swimming pool, she started speaking to the other children. She didn’t even realise she was doing it.
That week, I couldn’t stop grinning as I watched her slowly come out of her shell.
Back home, Katie, eight, continued to speak to friends, teachers, and sister Emma, 29.
Now people are hearing her voice for the first time and I can’t thank the charity enough. I don’t know how, but their trip cured Katie’s mutism.
I will never forget the seven painful years she suffered in silence, but just seeing her chat and laugh with her friends means the world to me. I’m so proud of her.
What is it? A severe anxiety disorder where a person is literally unable to speak in social situations, but they may be able to talk freely to certain people, such as close family and friends.
Who gets it? Around 1 in 140 young children are affected, with the disorder being more common in girls, usually starting between the ages of two and four. The cause isn’t always clear.
What’s the treatment? If diagnosed at an early age, behavioural therapy and CBT can help reduce the anxiety associated with speaking.
Where can I find out more? Go to nhs.uk and search mutism