Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jenna's Speech Results

For the past week and a half, a speech specialist from the states has been at New Day evaluating some of our kids. She has spent some time each day with Jenna, and yesterday gave her a final oral physical exam before completing her diagnosis. She has been diagnosed as "Selective Mutism." Basically that means she is simply choosing not to speak. It is not a terribly uncommon thing with institutionalized children or those suffering from severe traumas. We have no idea what traumas she may have endured in her life prior to coming to the Forever Home. We do know that she was moved around a bit previously. Something terribly difficult for a child to handle. I can also tell you that she has much difficulty with change. It takes her days or weeks to recover from a major event that happens in our home. For instance, when Hannah left for the hospital. Jenna had just began to speak. She'd said about 7-8 words for the first time. We were all so excited. Shortly thereafter, Hannah left for the hospital and Jenna was very upset for 2-3 days. With her previous history of being moved around so much, I'm sure she was wondering if she'd be the next to leave and it upset her. After a few weeks she began again only to have Serena arrive into the Forever Home. Again, her speech stopped with another change. Only about 3 days before Hannah was to come out of the hospital, Jenna again began to say a few words. Of course, seeing the pattern, we were concerned we were just beginning to make some progress again and she'd stop after another change of Hannah coming home. Sure enough it stopped. However, we are seeing a shorter and shorter time span in her making a come back between major changes. While we can't stop such changes from happening, we hope that things will settle down for awhile since we are at full capacity until we find a new home. Perhaps it will give Jenna the time she needs to heal emotionally and learn to speak. I am happy to report that she has began to speak once again this week!! Just yesterday she said a couple of new words. In the meantime, we are currently working on a picture system as a means of communication. We've been taking lots of pictures in order to put this together and get it up and working. Hopefully it will help relieve some of her frustration. I have to say that although she is the youngest girl in the Forever Home, she is BY FAR the most challenging. She is very, very strong willed and extremely controlling. I know, I know, she's most likely had to be that way in order for her to survive her previous background. She has had to rely on herself in order to get her needs met. We understand that, however, we just want to see her become a kid and enjoy letting adults take care of her needs for a change. I'm sure it will just take some time!


  1. Hi!

    I have worked with a couple kids in the school setting before who had selective mutism.

    I tend to look at selective mutism as an anxiety disorder, rather than as a child "choosing" not to speak. From what I understand, selective mutism is more like a child feels a lot of anxiety when they go to speak and it makes them feel frozen with fear. They feel really afraid to speak and have the spot-light on them. Often kids with selective mutism will not just be silent, but this will be accompanied by other signs of anxiety, such as there face looking blank and emotionless, wringing their hands, fidgeting etc when they are expected to speak.

    Often times the kids I have worked with speak completely normally at home amongst family but do not speak a word at school. This, of course, would be different for Jenna because of her background.

    Once of the suggestions I had when I was working on with one of the kids I worked with was taking the child into a room for one on one time with one person (i.e. parent, sibling) they seem least anxious around. Once the child adjusts to speaking with that person without anxiety, another person (i.e. another child) can be added to the group. As they become comfortable speaking with the new person, you can then add another one. Slowly, over time, the child can adjust to feeling comfortable around the whole family.

    We did that with a girl in our class, and after not sppeaking all year, that little girl (who NEVER spoke in class) had one friend she could speak with in private (and then felt comfortable whispering in this friends ear in class). After that, she was able to quietly speak a sentence to me in the hallway. She was slowly getting more and more comfortable, but then I had to leave the school! :( So I am not sure what happened!

    I am not sure if you home school the girls or if they go to a school, but another way to help her get ready for school (after she hopefully starts speaking at home) is to invite the teacher to your home (where Jenna is hopefully feeling safe and comfortable) so that she can adjust to her and have a familiar and trust-worthy face in her room. Then other can visit or have alone time with her until she feels more comfortable.

    Anyways, sorry for the unsolicited advice, but I thought it might be helpful since I don't think selective mutism is too common! :)

  2. Please don't be sorry for giving us unsolicited advice! We welcome any advice or comments by people who've gone through or dealt with such things our girls experience here. Although we do our best, we just don't have all the experts readily available to help in every situation here. The more we are able to learn, the better. We certainly do not claim to know it all!! I said "chooses not to speak" because that is what I was told. I can completely understand the anxiety she has, given her background. We do not know the traumas she's endured and do our best to be patient, just loving her and doing the best we can to make her feel safe and secure in our home. Thanks for the ideas on how you've dealt with it with other children. We greatly appreciate your advice! And thanks for posting it so that all can take advantage so if they know someone else with the same thing, they can learn better how to handle the situation.