Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"This Little Light of Mine ~ I'm Gonna Let it Shine!"

Berkeley, my seven-year-old, has struggled with Selective Mutism since she was quite young. This is a condition in which a child has major anxiety speaking in social situations. They may speak freely and in a normal voice tone at home, but anywhere else outside of the home can be a struggle. Children who suffer from SM can react to their anxiety by being completely silent or masking their real voice in an effort to "hide" themselves. In Berkeley's situation, she has almost always refused to speak publically...or she would speak in a very high "mousey" tone, which few could understand. This made things difficult when pre-school and kindergarten started. Near the middle of Berk's kindergarten year, we sought help through the school's speech therapist, a school counselor, and an outside source for therapy as well. She made huge improvements in the first grade and has done REMARKABLY well in second grade. She still occasionally struggles or hesitates to speak in front of her class or groups, but I can't complain when comparing to what things were like before.

For me as a mother, this has been really hard to watch a child go through. Always being incredibly social and verbal myself, I couldn't believe one of MY children would be shy or anxious about talking to anyone! In fact, I always thought my kids would have the opposite problem. It was also difficult for me to see what a fun, outgoing, free-spirit Berkeley was at home -- and then see her completely shut down. She was holding her true self from the world, and to me, that was tragic. She is a bundle of spirit, love, and humor when she is comfortable. I would look at pictures like these below.... and wonder why she couldn't just be comfortable in who she was:

This week though... something fantastic happened...

I got a call from a school PTA member. Berkeley has taken the "Grand Prize" in the K-2nd grade Literature category for the 2008 Reflections Contest! I was so surprised and excited for her! She would be so proud! But then the PTA lady dropped the bomb: "We were wondering if Berkeley would be willing to read her poem in the school assembly honoring Reflections winners- tomorrow!" Immediately I knew that wasn't about to happen --even on a good day for Berk. I explained Berkeley's speaking issues to the lady. She offered to have Berkeley read her poem on a video camera (and then they could play it for the school) if she felt more comfortable that way. It was worth a shot.

I wish you all could have seen that sweet girls face when I told her that she won! It was priceless. She immediatley asked....
"Am I going to be on t.v.?" I told her that there was no t.v. broadcast....but that she was invited to read it in front of the school the next day. She blurted out the second-grader equivalent of "Not just 'no', but HELL NO!". I explained the "video taping" option to her and she refused that too. But as the night went on...she was considering it. I couldn't believe it!

Sometimes our children will move mountains right before our eyes -- and Berkeley's mountain was before her. She came home from her Dad's that night, asked me to curl her hair for the video taping, put on some pink eye shadow and lip gloss....and recited that poem FROM MEMORY --right into the camera!!! I couldn't believe it. It was even very close to her normal voice tone! Truly she was not about to let her "big moment" pass her by in silence.

The next day, I was SURE she would decide to just "bag it" last minute. But we got up early....curled every stitch of her hair....and 'off' to school she went. The assembly came - they announced her name - and she walked up to accept her award. They played the video. She stood there while the crowd applauded...and I was a teary mess of pride! Even her past teachers were blown away at what they were seeing. It was AWESOME!! So many people came up to her afterwards, congratulating her and hugging her. It was a BIG moment. She had overcome something inside of her. Even if it was temporary, she had allowed her true self to be seen!

That night...she snuck into the livingroom after her sister had fallen asleep. She said to me with a smile..."I was kind of embarassed when they played that video for the school." I looked at her and said "Yah....but did a little, tiny part of you feel really proud too?" She shook her head "yes"-- and we talked again about how awesome that day was.

Tiny miracles. One day at a time. One proud little-girl and one VERY proud Mom.

"You did it kiddo! Way to go!"

Her film is below. It is a little dark in the background...but the sound is great. You may need to turn it up--but she speaks clearly. Enjoy it!