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As some of you may know, I went to the SMIRA conference last Saturday. It was the first time I had ever met anyone else with SM and it was a little strange to be standing in a room full of people who had all, in one way or another, experienced selective mutism.
We (me and my other half) set off on the Friday afternoon, the day before the conference. During the week leading up to it I had been fine but now that it was getting closer I was starting to worry. Would I be able to talk about my SM if anyone asked? Would it bring it all back, the memories from school that I’d conveniently forgotten about? We were meeting a few people at a meal in the evening before the conference; was that a bad idea, just something else to worry about? After a little cry I was finally ready and we headed off to Leicester where the conference was being held.
On the day of the conference I wasn’t feeling as nervous. The meal we had the night before had helped as I had met eleven others who were going to be at the conference and they all seemed really nice, genuine people. As I walked into the building I saw all the chairs laid out and it was packed. I couldn’t see any spare seats on the edge or near the back which is where I was hoping to sit (or hide!). Luckily there was a pile of chairs at the back so I took one and sat in the back corner with a small group of others whom I had met the night before. At first I felt a bit self-conscious and kept looking around the room but I was soon absorbed when the talks started. There were a few talks from people such as Phil Thomason, Kate Jones (music therapist) and Vicky Roe but the one that stood out for me, personally, was the one by Lucy Nathanson. Lucy is a child therapist and she talked about the first time she encountered selective mutism in a young boy who hadn’t talked in school for two years. When she asked more about the boy the school told her they had tried everything but nothing had worked. She took an interest in the boy and asked if she could work with him, so over the next few weeks she spent each day with him. She included him in group activities, read to him, spent time with him each day at school. One day she was reading to him, sounding out and breaking down the word ‘bear’ into ‘be’ and ‘ar’. After a few times of repeating the word bear she said again ‘be’ and waited; the boy repeated out loud ‘be’. She carried on and said ‘ar’ and he repeated her again. There was no pressure and no comment after he did talk, Lucy just carried on as if he had always spoken. I was trying not to cry as I was listening to her talk about that little boy. It was something so simple that she did; just to spend a bit of time to get to know him, to believe in him and be patient and supportive. Why had it taken two years for someone to do that for him? Why had no one else helped him and tried to understand? I found myself wishing there were more people like Lucy working in schools, it would make so many children’s lives much more bearable.
It wasn’t just Lucy’s talk that brought back my own feelings and memories around SM. Looking around the room during the lunch break I saw one little girl in particular who was glued to her mother’s side. People asked her questions but it was her mum who answered for her. I could see the fear in her eyes and the way she looked around the room; that could have been me when I was younger.
I don’t talk about my SM very often or to many people. I like to pretend that I’m mostly over it but I know it still affects me more than I’d like it to. At the conference I spent most of the time sitting in the same chair at the back of the room, wanting to go and interact with others but not quite sure how. I see others chatting away and wonder how they do it so easily. I’m glad that I went to the meal the evening before because there’s a small group of people who I met and felt more comfortable with and I talked a little bit to them. A year ago I never would have thought I’d be openly talking to a near-stranger about selective mutism. Who knows what I could be doing next year.