Breaking seven years of silence: how a mute ten year old found a way to let her voice be heard

I asked my ten year old if I could share this story, because after all it is her story not mine. She answered emphatically ‘yes’ adding that ‘make you you say that ‘everybody’s voice needs heard mum’ So I’ve made sure to get that bit in first.

So let me give you some background:

This is Naomi, my daughter. She is a twin with her brother having very complex needs including severe autism, epilepsy and severe learning difficulties. He can not speak verbally, which makes her statement about ‘everybody’s voice needs heard’ even more significant and powerful. Naomi herself is also diagnosed autistic with a further diagnosis of anxiety and an eating disorder. She also has a condition known as selective mutism: in many situations Naomi is so overcome with anxiety she is mute.

One of the places she has always been mute in is school. She started education at just two and a half and when she was first enrolled in nursery they didn’t believe me when I said she had a wide vocabulary and spoke clearly. She showed no signs of that in the nursery setting and in her two and a half years at two different nurseries she never once spoke a word: not one single word. She never sang a nursery rhyme, never answered a question and never even spoke to any other child. She smiled, cried and took part in some activities but she just never opened her mouth. By four she was formally diagnosed with the speech condition selective mutism.

At home she continued to gain language quickly and used it confidently. Her voice was clear, strong and beautiful and it was hard to imagine the idea that no-one else was able to hear this.

Naomi started school at five and continued to go all day at school without speaking. While her school were very inclusive and supportive, despite all sorts of inventive ways of easing her anxiety, Naomi continued to find it too difficult to speak. She did have one friend and by her second year in school she slowly began to speak to her one friend, though only outside of the classroom walls, primarily in the playground. This was only by whispers so that no-one else could hear.

She would tell me that she wanted to speak but whenever she opened her mouth the words just didn’t come out. She said it was like they just disappeared. She learnt to adapt to a life of mutism is school and her peers gave up on trying to get her to speak by half way through year 1.

Nativity plays came and went, as did class assemblies, but she could never have a speaking part. I knew she could speak but I seemed to be the only one. It was like we had this secret life at home where she would talk away but outside the home her voice disappeared and she lived a life of silence.

She would be given reading book after reading book yet whatever teacher she had they never once heard her read. Her year 1 teacher hoped her year 2 teacher might find the key to open her up. She didn’t. Her year three teacher was fantastic, but still Naomi was unable to speak. Her year four teachers had no luck either. No-one failed, it just wasn’t to be. Naomi wasn’t ready.

Naomi would often say how she would like to answer her friends, or join in games or read in class but mostly she just became used to the fact ‘I don’t talk’ and it became just how it was. Then one night three weeks ago she came out of school and I knew something was wrong. She cried the whole walk home. She cried most of that evening and the next night and the next night too. It was the week before Burns night, a traditional celebration in Scotland of a well known poet. Schools often mark the occasion by having children recite Scottish poems and Naomi’s school were no exception. This was Naomi’s fifth year of having such a task, every year prior being met with ‘I don’t talk’ and that was that. But this year something changed: Naomi loved the poem so much she wanted to memorise and recite it like her peers!

She actually wanted to speak!

But wanting to speak wasn’t enough. She still could not bridge that mental and physical gap. She couldn’t overcome her all consuming anxiety. That was the cause of the tears: the conflicting desire of wanting to do something so badly but knowing she couldn’t.

It was heartbreaking.

Then one morning I had an idea. I suggested it to Naomi and her tears turned to excitement. When the class were asked to chose a partner to practice their poems with and no-one chose her she just sat alone silently learning the poem to herself. She knew why her peers hadn’t chosen her and she wasn’t upset at them.

Naomi practiced. I practiced. I felt like our secret was closer than ever. Together we had a plan, though I had no idea if it would work.

Then three weeks ago, on Monday 21st of January, the night before my birthday, Naomi and myself performed that poem as if we were on that stage at school. Naomi was relaxed in her pyjamas in her own room. She spoke clearly and confidently having spent hours memorising the task by heart. On the chair in front of us was my iPad and I pressed record.

As we watched it back Naomi smiled and said simply ‘I did it.’

I asked if I could send it to her Head Teacher. She agreed and requested I also share on my Facebook page. But she wasn’t ready for her teacher or her class to hear her yet.

The next morning she woke and announced suddenly ‘Mum, I would like my teacher to hear my voice now. Can she see the video today?’

So I took her to school five minutes early and her teacher watched the video directly from my iPad. She unashamedly cried. She asked Naomi if she wanted the class to see it. Naomi smiled and nodded.

The following day, on Wednesday 23rd January 2019 a class of nine and ten year olds in a school in Scotland witnessed something very very special. As the pairs of children in turn recited their poems to the class and Naomi sat in silence cheering them on, the teacher ended the session with a little clip that changed everything.

For the first time in five years Naomi’s classmates heard her voice for the first time ever, as she casually and effortlessly recited the same piece they had all been learning, via a video playback of her recording at home.

Some children watched open mouthed, some cried. Every single one cheered and many hugged her.

Two days later, with Naomi’s approval, the Head Teacher showed that video to her entire school. Naomi told me staff and children were in tears.

Naomi gained every award going that week: star of the week, Head Teacher’s award and even an invite to have hot chocolate with the Head for going above and beyond!

Two weeks have since passed. Naomi is still selective mute. She’s still very anxious and still autistic. She hasn’t spoken yet in class directly or to her peers.

But they, and now the world, know that she can.

If and when she is ready she may one day speak in person. There is no pressure.

The fact is she did it. She broke seven years of silence in the only way she could. She proved that her voice counts. She proved she could.

Her message is strong and powerful and needs shared.

‘Mum, make sure you you say that everybody’s voice needs heard.’

She says it better than I ever could.

Here is that special video. Here is the moment my daughter broke seven years of silence.

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I Used To Worry About My Autistic Child’s Future Until I Met An Adult Just Like Her

All parents worry about their children: Will they make good healthy choices? What if they get hurt? Will they have friends? How will they cope with handling money? Will they be safe?

It’s standard parenting really to worry.

That worry is amplified if your child is autistic. You worry even more about them misunderstanding language, making friends, and being independent because they are more vulnerable and different to their peers, and because society isn’t yet as accepting and embracing of difference as it should be.

I worry about both my autistic children but for very different reasons.

My son is profoundly autistic. He is, however, likely to have the support he needs throughout his life because his needs and difficulties are very obvious to people. The fact he has no spoken language, he has significant medical issues and severe learning difficulties on top of his autism mean that my worries for him are more about will he carers look after him, will he be understood, will he be respected and so on.

With my daughter, who is also autistic, but who has no accompanying medical issues other than anxiety (which is huge and I would never underplay that), and certainly no learning difficulties, my worries are very different. I worry about people taking advantage of her when she is socially naive to their motives. I worry wether she would manage a work environment with her unseen and often misunderstood sensory difficulties. I worry that her communication difficulties and social anxiety will mean she is isolated and unsupported. I worry that her naturally caring nature and very tender heart would mean she is vulnerable to bullying and cruelty.

I try to never let her see my worries but they are always there. When she struggles with change at school on days like sports day or comes home in tears because she had been unwell and unable to tell anyone. When her anxiety is so high she has panic attacks and nose bleeds and I am powerless to make everything right.

She worries about everything and I worry about her.

Then I met Tom on a social media group. I say ‘met’ him but he was a stranger posting on a group both by commenting on posts relating to my daughter (and other posts too) and writing his own posts. Very quickly to us both it became obvious that Tom and my daughter had so much in common. Examples included little things like the fact:

1. They both preferred to sit on hard surfaces like the floor instead of traditional furniture like armchairs and sofas. Naomi spends hours a day, often all day, playing on the floor. It turned out Tom does that too but as an adult to relax in other ways like watching TV.

2. Naomi really struggles with needing personal space. She builds barricades out of toys to create circles around her that no-one can enter. Tom struggles with personal space at work in a similar way.

3. Naomi takes language literally timing me for example if I was to say ‘I will be back in a minute.’ Tom was struggling with the same thing and mentioned misunderstandings at work and with his family due to the same literal understanding of language.

4. I mentioned in one post that Naomi was terrified of flies, wasps, bees and any other small flying creatures. Tom was reminded of the time his parents told him he was so scared of bees he refused to get out the car.

5. Both Tom and my daughter would rock to self soothe.

I could go on but the resemblances continue to grow the more Tom posts about his life and the more he reads about my daughter.

Coming across an adult who is so like your child is incredible. It gives me hope when I once had worry, it excited me when I used to fear and it inspires me when I was once disheartened.

I know Tom isn’t my daughter, but with so many similarities I feel we were meant to meet to ease my worries. You see Tom is independent, he has a full-time job, he has friends, and though he struggles with isolation at times he never loses hope and he never stops trying. Of course he still has struggles but he did well educationally and he has achieved in so many ways. He lives the sort of life I hope my daughter might have one day but yet I worried wether it would happen.

Tom only found out he was autistic as an adult. My daughter was diagnosed aged 5. Tom doesn’t live in the same country either and his family life and dynamics are different. Yet the similarities are just enough to make me feel encouraged. What is even more important though is that hearing about Tom is helping Naomi.

While my daughter isn’t on social media yet I have been telling her about Tom. She is amazed at the similarities (have I mentioned Tom even shares her birthday?) and so encouraged to hear that while he may have some struggles (don’t we all, autistic or not?) he is achieving, happy and doing well.

She may never meet Tom but that doesn’t matter. We don’t have to meet people in person to be encouraged or inspired by them.

My daughter will one day soon be an autistic adult. Hearing about an adult just like her has been life changing for us both.

Thank you Tom.

I used to worry about my child’s future until I met an adult just like her.

If only every autistic child could meet an adult just like them too. Believe me when I say it really is life changing.

Three Reasons to vote for Naomi Gwynne in the National Diversity Awards

Have you heard about the National Diversity Awards? (http://www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/)

For those that haven’t heard they are a prestigious award ceremony for individuals, charities and organisations within the UK who are promoting and making the world a more diverse and inclusive society. They were launched in 2012 and have huge sponsors including Microsoft and endorsed by many celebrities.

I was aware of them through social media when both a charity I support and a friend I know where both nominated last year and I had the honour of seeing both get through to the finals and attend the awards night. It looked amazing!

Imagine my utter surprise then when a few weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from the National Diversity Awards informing me that my 9 year old daughter had been nominated for this incredible award this year! In fact I was so shocked I had to call them up as I was sure someone had made a mistake! Besides I had never seen a child nominated before so was sure something had gone wrong. I cried on the phone when I was told that, yes, my 9 year old daughter had really been nominated and yes, of course, children could and would be accepted providing they met the criteria.

I am absolutely delighted and honoured to tell you that Naomi meets the criteria…at 9!

Now it is all about votes. When voting you will be asked your email address and the reason why you are voting for Naomi. So I want to give you THREE reasons why I feel you should vote for my daughter. Of course I am biased but let’s stick to the facts:

1. She single handedly forced the local council to make a children’s play park more inclusive for children with disabilities.

How did she do this? Well Naomi has a twin brother who has complex medical and developmental needs. When her local play park was redeveloped at a cost of £160,000 Naomi was so excited to go and play with her brother. However on returning home she announced she was ‘sad’ because she noticed right away that while she was able to use the new swings her disabled brother wasn’t. She watched as all he could do was place his cuddly toys in the baby swing and push them because he was too big for the younger swings but developmentally unable to use the traditional flat swings for older children. Of her own doing at just 8 years old she put pen to paper and wrote this letter to the ‘park builders’.

As her mum I was so touched I knew something had to be done. Her voice needed heard. All I did was photograph her letter and tweet the council. It was all Naomi’s thoughts, ideas and writing. Neither she nor I had any idea how a child’s letter would catch the attention of the media.

Naomi went on to appear in all the national and local newspapers. She was featured on ITV news, magazines and even as far away as RTN in Germany! None of this phased Naomi who was much more delighted to be able to push her brother on a suitable swing when one was finally installed five days after writing her letter.

This alone deserves her to win! That swing is now used by thousands of children, not only children with disabilities but children of all ages and abilities who are now able to enjoy the park better as a result of the action of one child’s compassion and determination.

2. She overcame her own anxiety to appear on BBC breakfast to help fight for children with autism to be allowed sensory aids when schools were banning them.

When fidget spinners were suddenly all the craze I happened to write an article about how lovely it was for children like mine ,who both have autism and sensory needs, to be included more. As schools began banning the aids because they had suddenly become the latest craze Naomi became quite angry. She was indignant that children with sensory needs should be punished just because a sensory aid had become a popular toy for everyone. So when I was contacted by the BBC and invited onto their flagship BBC breakfast show and asked if my children would like to come too Naomi was determined to not only come, but to show personally how sensory aids were useful for children like her and her brother.

This involved a long train journey, a stay in a hotel overnight and a very very early rise as we had to be in the studio at 6am for the live show. All of this would be a challenge for any 8 year old, but for Naomi who has autism, severe anxiety and selective mutism all of this change was massive.

She did it! She may not have been able to speak but she showed the presenters her sensory aids and was determined to be there to fight for the right of others like her to have aids they need. I was so proud of her.

She overcame her own fears and anxieties to help others. That’s incredible for anyone let alone a child.

3. She showed immense bravery and courage to open up and write about her own struggles with food in order to try and help others.

Naomi knew I wrote about her and her brother. She was always asked her permission before I published anything about her and she would read over and change anything she wished. When one day a friend asked if Naomi would like to write something herself and suggested she may like to talk about her struggles with food Naomi decided she was ready. She dictated her thoughts to me and made sure I was recording them exactly as she said. When she had read through what she has said and amended anything she wanted I then asked her if she wanted to keep it for herself or share with others. Her immediate answer was to share it because others may be worried about the same things and she didn’t want them feeling alone! So her first blog was published via my own blog and it went viral very quickly. To date it has been read by over 250 thousand people all around the world and helped so many to understand and empathise and therefore hopefully become more tolerant and inclusive of those who struggle with food and eating.

Have a read at her words here: https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/the-reason-i-dont-like-to-eat/

I am sure you will agree that showing that level of courage and bravely to make the world more inclusive and understanding of eating disorders deserves recognition alone.

So there are my three reasons to vote for Naomi. Naomi has a comprehensive diagnosis of autism, selective mutism, anxiety and an eating disorder. She has a twin brother who has severe needs and is unable to talk. She lives with his challenging and unpredictable behaviour and his ever changing medical needs. Recently she has had to watch him taking seizures in front of her yet she remains calm, loving and gentle at all times towards him. From aged 5 when she started school she has stood out as a child with huge compassion and empathy using the skills she gained from living with her brother to help others. (https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/the-day-my-five-year-old-changed-her-class-without-saying-a-word/)

She has achieved more in 9 years than many of us achieve in a lifetime.

I should not really have been shocked she was nominated for such a prestigious award but in my eyes she deserves to be honoured at any level.

If you agree and you would like to vote for her you can do so here: https://nominate.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/nominate/endorse/31936

Thank you.

Even if she does not progress any further it is so good for her to know that her efforts are worthy of recognition and that people see that she really is making the world a more diverse and inclusive place to be..even at 9.

Ten Seconds That Prove You Should Never Underestimate A Non-Verbal Autistic Child. 


People don’t expect much of my son. 

Speech and language therapists have all but given up on him, encouraging me to just accept he is non-verbal with limited understanding.

School take him on ‘environmental excursions’ rather than reading and writing because…well he can’t hold a pencil despite having been in school for four and a half years so he is never going to read and write is he?

The learning difficulties mental health team wrote to us explaining his challenging behaviour and long spells of screaming are just part of his complex diagnosis and are unlikely to change.

The public looks down on him in distaste.

Children his own age mock him in parks and soft plays when they see he can’t talk and is still wearing nappies.

Even as his mum I sometimes find myself wondering what the future holds.

It is easy to understand why. My son has a long list of diagnosis all of which are life-long conditions. He development is years and years behind what is ought to be and he requires support for all his personal care. He is a non-verbal severely autistic 8 year old who is still very much living in his own world. 

Well that is what I thought too. That is until I happened to turn my iPad video recorder on this evening while he was playing with his iPad. What I captured changed everything.

He had been handing me his iPad on and off for the last half hour. He was pressing the ‘google’ app wanting me to type things in to let him scroll though images. It was exhausting trying to guess what he wanted to look at with no eye contact, no words to tell you and no clues. In the end, frustrated myself, I handed him the tablet back and said ‘Isaac google something?’ I never for a minute even thought he would understand let alone google something so incredible it had me in tears:

He clicked on the search button and within seconds he pressed the ‘i’, quickly followed by ‘s’, then without hesitation he pressed the ‘a’ right beside it twice, before pausing for a few seconds then finishing his search with a ‘c’. In total it took less than 10 seconds for him to prove you should never underestimate anyone!

He just typed out his own name and I had no idea he even knew it let alone how to spell it!

The speech therapists may be right about him not speaking but he clearly understands far more than they realised.

School thought he would never be able to read and write…well he may not be able to hold a pencil cold but he just wrote his name using a keyboard on an iPad so who know what else he may be able to type?

The learning difficulties health team may be right about his behaviour being part of his comprehensive and complex diagnosis but what if so much of it is frustration at understanding but unable to communicate back?

Maybe this ten second video may help the public see that you can not judge anyone by lack of speech or lack of eye contact or lack of social skills. 

It only took my son ten seconds but in that ten seconds he has proved to so many that we must never, ever underestimate anyone, especially those with non verbal severe autism.

Does my son still have difficulties? Absolutely. Should I ‘not expect too much of him’? Never!

Behind the flapping, you tube on repeat, screaming exterior is a brain hard at work piecing things together in his own way in his own time. 
People don’t expect much of my son: I do. He just showed me why.

Four things my severely autistic son has taught me


Having a baby is the most wonderful, humbling, exhausting experience I have ever known. I thought it would be a challenge but I would learn and gain so much.

 
Then one day my baby was diagnosed with severe autism.

 
Everything I had ever known about parenting suddenly changed.

 
I went from being the teacher to becoming the student and despite my son having no ability to speak he has taught me more than any speaker, any book or any course every could.

 
Here are five things my severely autistic son has taught me about life:

 
1. If you enjoy something, repeat it! 
All too often in life we are told to ‘move on’ or ‘grow up’ or ‘you are too young for that!’ My son has no concept of age appropriateness nor is he affected in any way by peer pressure. He enjoys a ride on a train to the same station to see the same elevators over and over again. He watches the same videos on you tube over and over. He presses the same button of the same toy repeatedly and still laughs.

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Isaac has taught me that if something fills your heart with joy never be ashamed to relive that. Life is to be enjoyed over and over and over again. I need to go back to finding joy, just like him, in the simplicity of life over and over again.

 

 

2. Stop worrying about other people!
Isaac has no awareness of others. He is not afraid to get on a roundabout even if a group of older children are in his way. He is not afraid to flap, spin, laugh and clap even if others don’t join him. Bullying goes right over his head. Comments from others don’t affect him. He could not care what he is wearing, where others are going or wether he is included or not. He does not aspire to be politically correct nor does he want to lead the crowd. Instead he is blissfully content being who he is, exactly how he wants to be.

 

I want to be more like that.

 

Life is not about doing what everyone else is or pleasing others. He is different, and happy to be so, and there is a lesson there for all of us.

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3. There is other ways to communicate without using words.
I talk far too much. Most of us do. Isaac can not talk at all so he relies on other, much more basic ways to communicate. He sits beside me if he wants a hug, he screams if he is unhappy or scared, he takes my hand to lead me, he finds photographs of things he wants.

 

To most his communication is too basic, too rudimentary, to learn anything from. They are wrong. Speech is not a ‘higher’ level of communication but rather a way to communicate that is actually too easily misunderstood. We can say we are happy yet our body language says otherwise. We can say we love when we actually don’t. My son simply shows me in beautiful and simple ways. They say actions speak louder than words and perhaps we all rely way too much on spoken and written language when a simple hug or smile would convey much more?

 
4. Don’t worry about the future, just enjoy today!
Isaac has no concept of ‘future’. He lives in the here and now and at 8 is just about coping with the basic idea of ‘first and then’. He has no worry about politics, or religion or current affairs. He has no concerto of wars, shootings or terrorism.

 

He lives in the moment.

 

He eats food and enjoys every item with no consideration for cost or sell by dates. He is as content to eat an out of shape vegetable from a low cost supermarket as he is eating out in an expensive restaurant. As long as he gets to eat he does not care! He never stresses about money or where it will come from neither does he desire anything of any real value. He will play with a coat hanger flapping it for hours without any idea that most would view it as trash. While we may not be quite as able to ‘live for the moment’ as he is we certainly could learn from his care free lifestyle and worry much more about today than the future. First today, then tomorrow could be a motto for us all.

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Isaac will most likely never read, or write or live on his own. Does he care? Not an ounce. He has zero idea about toilet training and he is not in any way worried what anyone thinks about that. He wakes up every morning happy. He laughs at the same you tube clip that he laughed at yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that too! He drags me to the cupboard for food and is neither brand aware nor cost aware.

Life is simple. Life is fun. Life is about today. He dances to his own beat and I am proud of him.

 

He brings me delight every day. He has so much to teach us.

 

He may be severely autistic and non verbal but the world is a better place for having him in it. 

 
People tell me he needs to be more like us. I disagree. We need to be much more like him. 

 

IMG_1466A version of this blog first appeared here

How Google Street Map Has Given One Non Verbal Autistic Boy a voice

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If there is one thing my son Isaac has taught me in the last 8 years it is this:

 
Communication is much more than words.

 

Isaac has severe autism. He has no spoken language. He has global delay, significant learning difficulties and NF1. He struggles with lots of things in life ,but yet there is one thing he excels at and has done for a few years now: he has taught himself to communicate via google street map!

It is a different way of communicating, but for him it works much better than speech or any traditional communication app.

Wherever I take Isaac, wether it is somewhere he is familiar with, or hundreds of miles away to a place he has never been before, he has a special talent of retracing the exact route once home using just google street map and his incredible memory.
In the summer of 2014 when he was just six year old we went on holiday to a cottage 120 miles from home yet a week later he retraced the exact route we travelled including stopping at the very same service station we took a comfort break at!

I was amazed that a child who has no understanding of numbers or letters and barely turned when his name was called could hold such an incredible talent. I was sure it was a one off.

img_6259He attends a school for children with complex needs and is transported there in transport alone for his own safety due to challenging behaviour and seizures. His school is 14 miles from home yet he takes himself there by memory via google street map every afternoon once home and sitting in ‘his’ chair. I put this ability down to the fact he does the same journey daily. I wondered if he had the location stored.

One day I watched him.

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What I witnessed gave me an insight into part of his world I can never be a part of and which he could never tell me about. Watching him use google street map gave me peace of mind as he showed me step by step the route his taxi goes and even where the car parks to get him out…in fact he even took me to the door of the building he goes into! All without speaking a single word

He uses google street map for his every communication need now.

If he is hungry he goes onto the street map and travels from his home address to a restaurant nearby and brings his iPad to me to show me.
If he wants to go out he uses google street map to show me where he wants to go, from the church he goes to every week, to the train station, and the local park. He takes himself to his grans house and to shopping centres to tell me he wants to go and watch lifts.
He has discovered he can enter a local hotel using google street map and this has opened up new unique ways for him to communicate too.
He tells me when he requires his continence products changed by taking himself to the hotel, going inside and finding the toilets!
He goes into rooms in the hotels and finds an ensuite to communicate he wants a bath at night. When ready for bed he moves around the rooms until he finds a bed and points to it.
He finds my car in the driveway to ask to go in the car.
He finds a clothes shop in the high street to ask me to get him dressed.
When he was highly distressed one day and I could not stop him screaming I put on google street map and he moved around until he found a house with a door open to show me that there was a door open somewhere he could see and this was what was causing his distress! I was in awe of his ability to find such an ingenious way to communicate.

Two weeks ago though he shocked me once again. He was more lethargic than usual and quiet (he may not speak but he makes a lot of noise!). He came and sat beside me and used his skill on google street map to take himself to the doctors surgery! For the first time ever he was able to communicate that he was feeling unwell! This was incredible. I cried. It was nothing serious thankfully but to be able to say he communicated he was not feeling good to a doctor was amazing.

Isaac is not a genius. He can not write his own name, dress himself, read or write or use cutlery. He requires round the clock care. He can not speak one word. He is severely autistic yet he has found a way to connect with others that is as unique and special as he is.

Google street map has helped millions find their way in life but none more so than one non verbal autistic little boy named Isaac.

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The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word

imageLike every mum I was terrified when my baby started full time school. Even as I dressed her in her shirt and tie I wondered yet again if mainstream was going to be the right place for her.

I had more reason than most to worry as she left that day still unable to dress herself and not yet potty trained, diagnosed with autism and selective mutism, and despite having had an extra year at nursery already, she was still one of the smallest children.

On top of all that she carries a heavy burden wherever she goes even at the tender age of five.

I often wonder if professionals realise the daily weight that siblings carry on their shoulders every day?

As well as her own diagnosis my beautiful blue eyed girl is the twin sister of a boy with even more complex needs. He has tumours, severe autism, challenging behaviour, global delay and is non verbal. She has to live with that at the fragile age of five.

How would she manage without him as his school placement was 14 miles away from hers? How would anyone know to meet her personal needs if she was unable to talk? Would her anxiety, vulnerability and tiny size make her an easy target for bullies? Would her home life stress cause issues with her learning?

I worried. And wondered.

But something changed that first week she started school. And one day her classroom assistant told me that my special, fragile, silent girl had actually changed that whole class of new starts without even saying a word.

It turns out there were two other children in her class who were also silent, but for a very different reason: they were unable to speak English. For ease of teaching my daughter was sat next to these children so the one assistant could help them all. But none of the teachers spoke Russian and everyone was still trying to work out the best way to help this group of children who due to inclusion had all been placed in the same mainstream class.

The teacher taught a lesson and the children sat on the floor. My baby girl sat and listened intently and returned to her seat. The class had been asked to draw a picture and write their names at the top of the sheet. As all the eager children started to pick up pencils and pens Naomi just sat there. She watched as the classroom assistant struggled to help the two others who had no understanding of what had been asked of them.

As another child momentarily distracted the assistant Naomi got up from her seat and walked over to the two children. She took the water holder from the middle of the desk and pulled it beside them. And silently she took each child by the hand and pointed to their own name and then pointed to the top of their paper. She then picked up a crayon and began to mark their paper every so slightly and pointed to what the others were doing.

She waited while they took in her attempts to communicate without language and slowly they began to copy down their name and begin drawing. She looked at them and smiled. And only then did she return to her own chair to try and write her own name.

The classroom assistant cried. The teacher watched.

The most unlikely child in the class had taught them all a lesson that day. The child diagnosed with a communication disorder actually showed them all how to communicate.

She still does not know one word of Russian. But living with a non verbal brother with complex needs taught her something that changed her entire class of children without her saying a word: it doesn’t need words to help people.

I still worry. But I know that in all she lives with she is somehow managing to turn ashes to beauty. And I could not be more proud of her.

This article was originally published on firefly and can be seen here: http://www.fireflyfriends.com/special-needs-blog/specific/raising-kids-with-special-needs-without-saying-a-word

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