I have always had a very close bond with my Son Oliver, maybe its because I delivered him at home when Vicky decided to only have a 20 minute labour, leaving us no time to get to the Hospital!! Ive never been so pleased to see an Ambulance arrive to take a very blue looking baby from my hands – (Thank you Ash and Tim) I don’t know why but I never expected a baby to be so blue!!
I think this close bond really helped when I had to support Oliver at the age of 4 onwards to overcome his Selective Mutism. Being the proud parent at his prom a few weeks ago it really reminded me of how far he has come. I found myself reminiscing about his journey and decided to tell my story about our journey together, which plays its part in why I Love What I Do on a daily basis finding the ideal candidates to support others.
Oliver was a very happy child but was ‘Shy’ around certain family members especially Vicky’ parents and her sisters family. Friends and family members would exclaim Oliver was Shy and I know some people became very frustrated with the fact he wouldn’t talk to them and took it personally. We did however initially put it down to shyness however as he got older we became more and more concerned and it became apparent he wasn’t just shy.
It was thanks to one of his Teachers at his Nursery School who suggested the possibility that Oliver had something called Selective Mutism, she had recently read some literature that fitted with Oliver’s personality. He had gone through his year at Nursery and had made friends and played with other Children but was very insular in his communication and wouldn’t engage, I can remember going to the school Play and had to help Oliver in the classroom to get changed whilst in floods of tears, he was very anxious and scared and he didn’t sing through any of the songs.
His anxiety did gradually grow to such a stage that when he fell or hurt himself at School he wouldn’t cry or make a noise despite being in obvious pain. His reading started to suffer at School however the teachers knew he was taking in the information and learning all the time – sometimes better than other Children who would chit chat!
This suggestion of a possible condition came mid way through his year at Nursery, we started the referral process and went through several horrific appointments – one sticks in the mind when an ENT Dr tried to prise Oliver’s mouth open with some considerable force to look into Oliver’s mouth to check there was nothing wrong with his vocal cords – something we had advised there wasn’t as Oliver would talk quite normally to us and engage at home with myself Vicky, his older brother and my Mum. We left that appointment very quickly, it was akin to torture and heart breaking to see our tiny baby boy being subjected to this.
Oliver’ diagnosis came through CAMHS in Leeds, where they diagnosed that he had Selective Mutism but that it would be ok as “in most cases Children grow out of it by the time they get to high School” – he was still 4 at this point!!!
We weren’t prepared for this to happen and commenced our own research into the condition and what support we could offer, there were horror stories about medication solutions including anti-depressants and Children reaching Adult hood still not speaking. There were 2 key factors in Olivers development a TV programme covering Selective Mutism that highlighted the anxiety itself and potential treatment options including a technique called “Sliding in”. The 2nd was a young Australian Teacher who had just started at Oliver’ new Primary School.
I can remember Oliver’s first day at School he cried as most other children did but without making a sound or opening his mouth, we stayed with him for 20 minutes as all the other parents did and collected a very happy little boy at lunchtime who skipped as he ran out of school – we couldn’t shut him up on the way home and at home and this was what it was like through Oliver’s first months at School and during his time at Nursery he would be Silent at school but then at home you couldn’t shut him up even if you had wanted to, he had to get all of his news and ideas out to us within his trusted circle.
He did still make friends at School and most kids accepted him as he was, he played and engaged with the other Children but never spoke – he became known as the ‘Boy who didnt speak’
Not wanting to leave Oliver to suffer I discussed with School that I would try the Sliding in process, which they readily agreed.
This involved me and Oliver going to School between 20 and 30 minutes earlier and going into the Sensory Room – which was very comfy and had nice murals on the wall it was the least School environment they had.
Now whilst Oliver would speak to me at home quite normally he wouldn’t speak to me at School, I would read to him, play games like snap or other board games all with the door to the room closed, this went on for several weeks if not months before the 1st break through idea happened. I decided to speak myself through closed lips – making the noise of the word rather than speaking it – Oliver looked at me like I had gone mad!! However, we grew from that point initially making simple noises, then humming, then saying words through the clenched lips. We gradually opened the door a notch and brought a teaching assistant closer to allow the teaching assistant to hear the noises.
From that point we started to split our time between the sensory room and the classroom, in the classroom Oliver slowly started to communicate with the other Children and his Teachers by making noises through clenched lips. In the sensory room the next idea was for us to make a game of speaking into a voice recorder and playing it back to each other, this started with silly words, phrases, then graduated to questions and answers, still with the door closed. This continued for several weeks and months but all the while Oliver was growing in confidence.
He continued to have set backs a Childminder who couldn’t deal with Oliver being Silent, leaving us with no childcare support and a rush to find a replacement although thankfully “Clare Bear” was found!. She was a fantastic childminder and whilst not Oliver’s first choice was great for him and his baby sister.
I started staying a bit later and during registration would play a game with a few of the more confident (and naughty!) Children, again starting with noises until one day I asked Oliver if he would go behind a nearby separation curtain and speak into the tape recorder – I was gob smacked when he did and that simple answer of “yes” coming through the tape recorder was one of the sweetest sounds I had ever heard.
This took us to the end of Olivers first year at School, it had been a turbulent year with two steps forward three steps back most of the time but it ended with Oliver using the handheld voice recorder to speak into and communicate with his teachers and friends, the next hurdle of removing the tape recorder came quickly after that point and he would speak very quietly and timidly to people in the School.
He started to progress and grow into the second year at School however Children still remembered Oliver as the Boy who didn’t speak, he wouldn’t speak infront of the class as a whole but would engage with his closest friends. The problems did continue out of school, days out with friends he would remain silent. He could still be distant with his friends and isolate himself however gradually step by step he grew in confidence.
There were still some times where we would cringe when Teachers would highlight in assembly for example how Oliver had grown from the Child that didn’t speak to who he was now – this was done with the best of intention but made us cringe as why would Oliver want reminding of that period of silence.
Coming up to Oliver finishing year 5 and being in Year 6 my worry and anxiety started to kick back in – the High school Oliver was faced with attending was home to 1500 Children from 11 – 18, how would he cope? Would he regress and take steps backwards, would the underlying anxiety and possibly autistic traits magnify?
Whether this was classed as running away or not we don’t know but my Wife and I had always dreamed of living in the Countryside, we spent a lot of time in the Lake District and would often suggest to Oliver and his Sister that one day we could live here. Oliver never wanted to, so we held off but did visit most weekends. On one of these weekend visits Oliver surprised us by telling us he would move to the lakes. My wife being my wife (you’ll know if you’ve met her) jumped on this and with what seemed like a matter of weeks plans had been implemented, we’d found a small Secondary School that only had a annual intake of 28 and a whole school size of 125, a house, ours had been rented out and we were off!!
It was the clean break that Oliver needed, no one knew of his prior “silence” and my wife’s proudest moment was seeing Oliver be the compere at Schools comedy night. Now im not saying this is what everyone should do but it worked for us.
He has just completed his GCSE, has a Girlfriend and is looking forward to College in September with a view to becoming a Bio medical Scientist. Now don’t get me wrong a lot of the Anxiety is still there and as I mentioned I do wonder if some of his issues are stemmed from Autism to a certain degree, he is very OCD, he cannot accept change and if we are spontaneous he self-combusts, worrying about it however what I do know is, we as parents couldn’t risk doing nothing. We don’t really know where this anxiety stemmed from, there was an instance at a Childminder when at the age of 3 Oliver was placed on the naughty step for a whole day – Oliver is very strong minded and he assured us he hadn’t done what he had been accused of and therefore wouldn’t say sorry. Did this antiquated method compound underlying issues? We will probably never know.
I am happy and available for any parents or family members that want to discuss Oliver and his journey and If I can help anyone else in a similar position I would be delighted to do so, however I would hope the diagnosis and support has increased over the past 12 years.