By Christina Atkinson
Ashley was born at the beginning of December on a snowy day and since it was the holiday season, everything in the nursery was decorated for Christmas. She was our last baby and our one and only girl. Our dark haired, brown eyed sweet baby girl.
I am going to fast forward to when Ashley was about 3 years old because up until then, she was the "typical" kid. I started to notice she was getting extremely anxious around others outside our home. For me, it wasn't the usual shy phase that some kids go through. She would literally claw at her dad to be held, squeeze behind me and hold my legs, and her bury her face wherever she could. She would not speak a word but the minute she got in the car, she would hyperventilate cry or become the biggest chatterbox. My husband and the doctors said she was just shy and nothing was physically wrong with her but I just felt something was not right.
Fast forward to age 5 and her first day of Kindergarten and the teacher was going around the class asking the kids their favorite color (Ashley's was blue at the time). When she got to Ashley, she said blue! She has always had a sweet & soft spoken voice so Miss D didn't really hear her. She said, I'm sorry honey, I didn't hear you. Can you say it again, sweetie?"
All the kids were excited talking about their colors & they would watch each other speak and clap. Our girl went to say blue again but it wouldn't come out. She froze and started to tear up. In later years she described it as feeling like she couldn't breathe. I told my husband this is enough and someone needs to listen to us.
Incredibly thankful for our pediatrician at the time because he was the only one who listened and referred us to a specialist at CHOP. It was there that Ashley was diagnosed with Selective Mutism. SM is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in a social setting, in public, or even to relatives they don't see often. The anxiety is so intense, a child with it cannot even speak in an emergency situation. Selective Mutism is not widely known because most go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. It is so rare that most of society, including medical professionals have never heard of it. Statistics show that it affects less than 1% of the population in the US (7 out of every 1,000). It comes with alot more than just not speaking such as trouble making eye contact, smiling, self esteem issues, OCD, depression, sensory processing disorder and more.
Ashley is currently 14 and thriving. Her 504 plan allows for her to get the education she deserves in the ways she is able to communicate such as ASL, laptops, iPad, messaging, notebook and pen and other forms of nonverbal communication. She is extremely intelligent and has a heart of gold. She has such compassion and love for humanity, world issues, and animals. I could not be more proud to be her Mama.
We are an open book so if you would like to learn more about Selective Mutism or need some guidance and support, please reach out to me on Instagram @mama_advocatex3. We are here for you.