“Sometimes it’s confused with just shyness and thought that a child will grow out of it, which usually isn’t the case.”
Isabel seems like a perfectly regular, playful kid at home.
But when the six-year-old’s teacher told her mother that Isabel was completely mute in class, it became clear something was seriously wrong.
“She said ‘well she’s mute, so we [are] wondering if she’s using sign language at home or how she’s able to communicate’,” the girl’s mother Tamra told The Project in a segment screened last night. “And I said to her, I really think you’ve got the wrong parent because my child’s fine.”
But it turned out Isabel wasn’t fine — and nor was her older sister Emilie.
“Apparently she would sit in the corner and she would just cry,” Tamra says of eight-year-old Emilie. “She wasn’t able to participate, she wasn’t able to make friends.”
Last term, Isabel even started to become “hysterical” when Tamra tried to leave.
The girls’ concerned parents took them to a psychologist, where they learned that both children have selective mutism, a complex anxiety disorder characterised by the inability to speak and communicate effectively in certain settings.
“Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder similar to social anxiety or even public speaking anxiety where the child fears how someone is going to react, and because of those fears the children are literally too scared to speak,” Dr Elizabeth Woodcock of Selective Mutism Clinic Sydney told The Project.