Liina's story

Our family has two children, who are aged 10 and 6, and a mother and father. Our family is bilingual and we live abroad.

Our oldest child was aged 3 when we first noticed the difficulty in speaking via kindergarten. The kindergarten staff informed us that our child did not say anything to the adults in the kindergarten. At first, we accounted for the silence part of our child’s shy personality. Our child spoke to some friends of the same age, so we did not know to link the lack of speech to mutism. We moved abroad before our child started school, but the problems existed already when we lived in Finland.

The real situation was identified only at the end of first grade in school, when the teacher suggested the possibility of selective mutism. At the same time, I had myself searched from the internet information about mutism and had come across the concept of selective mutism. Understanding the situation was delayed because our child spoke normally at home and, at least outside of the classroom, spoke in a normal voice to some friends. The lack of speech with adults in school led to diagnosis at school age. Fear was associated with school facilities such as classrooms and large halls. The child also was afraid of making mistakes.

The first-grade teacher advised us to reserve a time with a family therapist and psychologist. It turned out that family therapy had been recently cancelled due to financial cutbacks. We got to see the health centre psychologist in the summer after first grade, but she directed us to a private psychologist who was more familiar with this topic. The private psychologist met our child twice. The psychologist gave us a handout that had a picture of a ladder - our child could colour a rung on achieving a task that required speaking eved, for example, had ordered an ice cream by themself or greeted a stranger. We worked on the colouring the rungs during the summer; however, when school started back after the summer, the problems remained.

At the end of fourth grade, another teacher suggested that an official diagnosis could help getting support. Our child still did not speak to adults in school or in the classroom. To get help and support, we contacted the health centre doctor. The doctor made a referral to the psychologist clinic, where our child began therapy the following autumn.

As a parent, I have wondered would our child have gotten help more quickly and consistently if we had lived in Finland. It felt that abroad, selective mutism was poorly recognised and a child that did not cause more visible problems in school, easily fell outside the scope of assistance. No clear path of care exists for mutism, rather visits to a psychologist are usually offered. The most difficult thing is following the child’s state of fear, which easily erupts at home as temper tantrums. As a parent, I often try to predict the future regarding studies and work life. Attached to selective mutism is the stamp of an invented sickness: outsiders have downplayed, for example, why nowadays even shy people have to be given a name.

One comforting issue in the situation is that my child has friends with whom it is possible to speak at school breaks and outside of school. My child has luckily not been teased because of their mutism, rather classmates have been very understanding. My child was in a school performance last spring and was able to say one word very quietly during the performance. I am hopeful about the new therapy that will begin in the autumn, which will hopefully, now before becoming a teenager, give tools to break down the anxiety associated with social situations and school.