Monday, July 12, 2010

Selective Mutism

Middle Sojourner's Story

Middle Sojourner & Mommy. 
I know it is not the greatest picture with all that back light, but it reminds me of the sweetness of Middle Sojourner.
She is always doing sweet things for others.  This picture was taken in January, while in Kenya,
 she had used her own money to buy be these earrings in my favorite colors as a surprise.

When Middle Sojourner was five years old three different people in the course of a weeks time, that she knew fairly well and interacted with frequently, said that they had never heard her speak. Up to this time we knew that she was very shy, but really didn't think much about it because both my husband and I were extremely shy when we were kids. We started to watch her more closely in situations where she was around people other then family. She was almost always with her Ms. Sojourner (her older sister) and she would use Ms. Sojourner to talk for her. We still really didn't think much about it because we just assumed it was shyness and that she would eventually grow out of it. A short time later a family member, whom Middle Sojourner loved and interacted with on a regular basis but did not talk to, gave us a magazine article on Selective Mutism. We read it, but didn't take it very seriously, still believing that Middle Sojourner was just shy, and eventually would grow out of it as my husband and I had both done. A few months later we packed or sold all of our belongings and headed to an eight week training that would prepare us for our move overseas (October 2009). The girls attended a small school with others who were also training for their overseas move. This was the girls' first experience in a school setting because they had been home schooled (but with lots of interaction with other kids through home school groups, church, and the neighborhoods we lived in) thus far. They loved going to school every morning and made lots of new friends. Middle Sojourner's teacher and principal called us into the office and asked us questions about Middle Sojourner. They were concerned and wanted to bring in a children's psychologist to evaluate her. We agreed and Middle Sojourner was evaluated. She was diagnosed with Selective Mutism right before her 6th birthday.

Our company decided to delay our deployment overseas and we moved into temporary housing and Middle Sojourner began counseling twice a week with a Christian counselor who specialized in children and anxiety (January 2009). She had never had experience with SM before. Middle Sojourner progressed really well, better then any of the research that we could get our hands on. We were excited. Within 5 months Middle Sojourner was talking to her counselor like she did to us, answering "uh uh" and "uh huh" (for some reason this is easier for her then "yes" and "no" and is a smaller step) to people, ordering her own food at fast food restaurants, and slowly talking to a few more people. Our counselor and our company released us for deployment feeling like with the progress we has seen that it was possible for us to go and continue working on this overseas as long as we stayed in the capital, she attended an English speaking school, and we were around English speakers on a regular basis.
 A few days before we left we left our plans changed and we headed to Senegal for two months because of some logistics issues (June 2009). When we got to Senegal we were not around English speakers or kids on a frequent basis so we did not have opportunity to implement many of the techniques we had learned through counseling to help Middle Sojourner. After two months we headed to our current West African country and settled in (August 2009). The girls made friends in our neighborhood and Middle Sojourner used what little French she knew speaking with them. We were encouraged! She began school a few weeks later and we hoped that being in this small classroom atmosphere (her class consisted of 5 other girls, no boys) that she would thrive and continue to progress. Things did not work at as we hoped. She was not making progress at school. The African kids went back to school in October and because of the African schools' long hours she was not able to have frequent interaction with the African kids anymore.

The end of the first semester of school (December 2009) we became very frustrated that all of our efforts were not working. We got in contact with Middle Sojourner's counselor via skype and had infrequent meeting with her. Middle Sojourner after 6 months plus without talking to her counselor picked up right where they had left off. Again we were encouraged. We felt like with the help of her counselor we could see progress again. We tried several new things at school and home and still did not see progress before school ended. We are again discouraged.

Our family loves it here and we enjoy the work that we do. We are adjusting well and learning language. Things are going well, except for Middle Sojourner's progress. Right now we are praying that God would give wisdom to three doctors that work for our company in what is the best decision to make for Middle Sojourner's well being. Should we stay and give it another school year and hope that we can make progress? And, if she does not make progress within next school year then go back the US? Or, is it in Middle Sojourner's best interest for us to head back to the US now and start a more aggressive treatment? So for now we wait for God's answer.
*You can read more about Selective Mutism at Selective Mutism GroupThis is a definition of what Selective Mutism is.

*****Edited to add that we are now seeing progress!  Read more Selecive Mutism posts to follow her progress.

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