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A mother's journey with selective mutism, part one

Avalon with her mother Cathy
Avalon with her mother Cathy
Cathy M.

Earlier this week I wrote an article on “What is Selective Mutism Disorder?” Part 1 of “A Mother’s Journey with Selective Autism” deals with the real life story of a Milwaukee area woman and her daughter. Avalon is the youngest of four children born to Franklin resident, Cathy M. Until Avalon entered preschool, her family had never noticed anything different or unusual about her.

At 3 ½ years old Avalon began preschool. She was excited about going since her older sister Aubrey had previously attended the same preschool. Cathy said, “I dropped Avalon off on that first day with no issues.” However, several days into it the teacher told Cathy that Avalon was not talking in class. There was no verbal communication and little eye contact. On the first day of school she had raised her hand to speak and when everyone looked at her, she completely froze.

Cathy was obviously concerned and tried talking to her daughter about it but she really didn’t have any answers. Cathy says, “We tried everything we could to coerce her into talking. We tried bribery, punishment, withdrawal from activities, trickery – all to no avail. We just didn’t know what to do. We then realized that she also didn’t talk when we left her in the preschool classroom at church. She would just sit on the chair with silent tears. We also started to notice that when we were with extended family members she was silent. The preschool Christmas program came and our beautiful daughter sat there, stone faced, staring at the floor.”

Like many parents, Cathy thought that her daughter would outgrow it. But that wouldn’t be the case. In fact, things got worse. Cathy tells us the story: “It was Good Friday, 2003. Avalon was now four years old. We were driving up north to see my dad. She adored her grandpa and was very close to him. As always, on the two plus hour drive the children all fell asleep. When we arrived at my dad’s I woke them and carried Avalon into the house. Normally she would run to my father with hugs and hellos, but she stayed silent. My brother was visiting at my father’s so I thought that once he left she would be fine. She wasn’t. She didn’t speak….to anyone.”

Finally Cathy reached a point where she knew they needed help. She called a local helpline but the man on the phone began asking questions about potential abuse. Cathy knew this was not the case. At one point the words selective mutism came to mind so Cathy looked it up on the internet, discovering “Selective Mutism Group”.

After going through a checklist online she found that her daughter fit 7 of the 10 symptoms. She began calling psychologists but none of them had experience with selective mutism. Finally through the “Selective Mutism Group” website she was able to find a referral for a local doctor out of Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee.

Part 2 of Cathy’s story will be published tomorrow.


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