selective (not selected) mutism

It’s a very unhelpful name, selective mutism I think. If we were in the middle of a game of word association it might be followed by ‘choice’, ‘choose’, ‘select’. I can understand how it can so easily be misunderstood as ‘shyness’, ‘manipulative’, ‘oppositional behaviour’, ‘stubbornness’. We hear the phrase and immediately jump to the misunderstanding that the child is selecting when to speak and when not to. It’s more accurate to understand it as the mutism is selective, not the child. It gets it’s name from the way that the mutism is only seen in certain contexts and not in others not because it is implying choice.

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The most helpful way I’ve found of thinking of selective mutism is to focus on the physiological. It is known that in moments of extreme anxiety or panic the body’s fight/flight/freeze mode affects us physically. Our body’s hormone balances for example are completely upturned, in order to get ready to run or fight. One of the physical affects can be the seizing up of the muscles needed for speech – including the vocal chords. So in that situation of panic speech is simply not physically possible. And that is selective mutism. An outworking of extreme anxiety. For some this anxiety is seen in group contexts (even of familiar people); for others with strangers; for others it is in particular places; for some when under the pressure of a direct question; or simply in front of others. It stems from social anxiety, social phobia and anxiety about demands. Responding to selective mutism as if it is ‘stubbornness’ or ‘manipulative behaviour’, or ‘a shy phase’ ignores and adds to the anxiety.

Selective mutism can affect autistics as well as others. And it can make life very challenging, and scary – imagine needing something and being completely unable to ask for help and get support. It makes being in new situations and places especially difficult when you know you cannot stop and ask for directions or check something with the teacher or your classmates. It can make learning hard work when you are unable to ask for help or clarification. It can make friendships and social times, like lunch breaks, really challenging.

There is really helpful advice and explanations at SMIRA.

I especially like way the article ends:

 Celebrate your child’s unique qualities
We cannot change the personality of SM children – and wouldn’t want to! They are naturally sensitive individuals who take life seriously and set themselves impossibly high standards. The downside is a tendency to be overwhelmed by novelty, change and criticism; the upside is an empathetic, loyal and conscientious nature.

How to support?

  • be kind – patience not pressure
  • surprises add to anxiety
  • give more time than you think for an answer
  • praise achievements
  • disappointment and disapproval are definitely not wanted
  • support the anxiety
  • help find safe ways and places to calm and regulate
  • enable coping strategies for anxiety
  • remember it is selective but not selected

It is not easy to truly understand or appreciate another person’s experience of anxiety – we all get worried about things from time to time, and it’s all to easy to assume other’s worries feel and affect them the same way that ours affect us. Our expectations are too often shaped by our own experiences. But to be able to support we need to put those expectations to one side and take on board the extreme level of anxiety being experienced by someone with selective mutism. It is not a choice. It will not be easily and quickly ‘got over’ or ‘snapped out of’. It is quite paralyzing. And can be so very isolating.

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Role models

Growing up in a Christian home, a manse with many people coming and going, a faith filled extended family, and being at the heart of church family life meant I had many followers of Jesus as role models. I can sit here and think of a number of really significant people whose life of faith has encouraged, strengthened and challenged mine as I grew (and continue growing!). From Sunday school teachers and youth house-group hosts to honorary church grannies who listened and shared life with us, from Bible college tutors and fellow ordinands to Mums like me living out their faith I have been shaped and inspired by other Christians.

Prayer bubbles and commisioning

It was Paul who said rather challengingly:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)

It wasn’t just people alongside me either. As a child I loved reading biographies (still do given half a chance!) of Christians doing extraordinary things with God. Books like ‘Through gates of Splendour’, the story of the Elizabeth Elliot; the writings of Corrie Ten Boom; or the story of Mary Jones walking to find a Bible shaped me and inspired me – they still do.

One of the youth sessions at the New Wine summer conference that A came away talking about was an evening when a woman from North Korea came to give some of her testimony. She had become a Christian, had escaped, found a Bible and written it out in its entirety committing much of it to memory. Later whilst in Prison for her faith and escape, she had shared her faith despite the dangers and had started a church that met in the prison toilets which was so very dirty that guards never went near, and they prayed and recited scripture in whispers. She spoke of the reality of living as a secret Christian, of people burying Bibles to keep them hidden and going at night to dig them up read them, of the danger of being known as a Christian and yet how faith is being shared. For A it was I think one of those encounters that will shape him. We have certainly all come back less complacent about how easy it is for us to reach for a Bible and to read God’s words to us.

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Hearing testimonies like this from Christians whose experience is so different from ours is so challenging, and so needed in our growth in faith and belonging in the church. These are the testimonies that have made me courageous (terrified yet stepping out with God) in my life of faith.

“As parents we are the main spiritual influence in our children’s lives. And as we discover more abut what it means to ‘abide in him’, we have an amazing opportunity on the roller-coaster ride of family life to model to them what seeking to live in a real relationship with God actually looks like.” (p47, ‘Raising Faith’ Katharine Hill & Andy Frost)

It is a daunting thought that I am a role model of a life of faith in my children’s life. I certainly don’t want my life to be the only one they look at to see what a life of faith looks like. I want to enable them to encounter many others too who will inspire them and show them in different ways, and through different experiences what following after God can be like. Being regularly part of church family is great, and opening the doors of our home to others as often as we can is good too. RE projects (Gladys Aylward is now very well known to B & I), talks, films, you tube, family and books (10 girls who changed the world, by Irene Howat is good – there’s a boys one too) – the opportunities for introducing our children and young people to other Christian role models are many and so very interesting and inspiring. Helping my three to hear other’s stories of faith feeds me too.

 

 

When it’s just too much to write

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So I’ve been busy – busy feeling guilty about not writing! Having tried to write really regularly missing 3 weeks has actually been hard. But there has been such a lot going on, and when I’ve had time I haven’t had enough energy, and when I’ve had the energy not the time!

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Well this week we are camping, and today is a wet day. So I thought why not share my view with you. Here I am surrounded by Lego and discarded crisp packets having already been to the gorgeous little stream and dabbled, paddled & doodled. The cousins and mine are plotting and planning Minecraft realms which they share, so here I am with a space to breathe.

To fill you in we have helped lead the holiday club at church. It was a good week, lots of laughter, games, crafts and chatting faith. T had some friends from school with her in her group which she enjoyed. For the first time A was a young leader, he was good at it… and even became the model for his groups technicolour Joseph coat.

Then we rushed our packing and set off to New wine, the Christian conference we go to each summer. This year we experienced our very own miracle – for the first time T went to every session of her age group meeting with the support of our place (new wine’s inclusion stream) which in turn meant I could go to every single morning session and seminar. That was such a blessing. Great grounded teaching from Jo Saxton about us being ordinary people in the hands and purposes of our extraordinary God. Refreshing worship and real encounters with God. Encouragement and challenge and opportunity for prayer ministry.

New wine is always about community. A practical reminder that I cannot, and am not meant to be able to do it all alone. I am made to live in interdependence with others in my community and the family of God. It is so easy to find myself, in the middle of the kinds of chaos we have in our family life wanting to withdraw and somehow protect myself and children from perceived judgement or misunderstanding from others. I really need regular reminders of how much I need others, of how I am not made to do this in isolation – however difficult that sometimes feels.

And this week we continue with community, camping with my sister & her kids. It’s great to share parenting, meeting the kids needs and enjoying time with them and each other. As a result of my planning ahead I signed us up to the RSPB wild challenge and that has steered us through some lovely nature based activities (that I brought a few bits to help us be prepared for) that we have had fun with. We have stargazer Found wierd and wonderful many legged sea creatures in rockpools and made art from leaves. There has also been a soggy beach visit! A surprise meet up with friends at a castle! Unexpected cuddles with cornsnakes and meercats. And a very very steep uphill walk or two. (Plus lots of biscuits & chocolate into the mix!)

Ps 18v29

 

 

 

pentecost prayers

IMG_20180519_114620532 Our church took part in the global prayer initiative #thykingdomcome, and we had our prayer room set up for 48 hours so that as a church we committed to pray for the whole of that time taking turns in the room.

It was set up using the resource ideas on the #thykingdomcome website. Which focused on the image of the Holy Spirit bringing light.

As a family we have got used to spending an hour in a prayer room together over the years,  (wrote about last years too!) but even so it does still feel a little daunting! And this year I remembered the wrong time!! Ended up gatecrashing another slot (thankfully a family we know well) and then coming back later to do the hour we had signed up for! So we managed it twice in the end…

Each section of the room led us to pray for ourselves or neighbours, our town or the wider world through a hands on activity to help us think or to visualize that prayer. T really liked the coffee filter pictures. We drew in biro first, our street or just our neighbours house, then decorated around the edge with colours of the warm fire of the Holy Spirit. When it was wet the invitation was to pray for that household as we watched the warmth of those colours get closer and eventually cover the whole house. It was messy, visual and meaningful.

Cutting out newspaper stories and putting them onto the large lightbox (a DIY job with a plain plastic box & white Christmas lights) helped us to reflect on how wherever Jesus’ light shines it reveals things for what they are – showing us what’s true.

Using mirrors and torches we tried to shine a light onto different countries on the big wall map of the world. It was quite tricky, and actually involved both B & T at the same time which was great. Finding countries we knew something about, then directing the light and praying.

There was also playdough, and a playdough mat with prayer suggestions. A local map to let feathers (flame colours of course) float down onto to choose us a part of the town to pray for. Some Christmas lights to add thumbprints onto to pray for particular friends. Spiral family prayers.

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Of course I managed to fit in drawing a reflective colouring page using verses about Jesus the light of the world and our calling to shine like stars. This went down well with B (and me!). Feel free to follow this link and print one out to use.

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Also a perfect opportunity to put my book to use, helping me to encourage us to pray boldly knowing that God will answer our prayers because he loves us!

press release

 

SOS!

Now what do you do when a good friend at church brings you a present – a bag of spare salt dough! Roll up your sleeves & dive in of course…

I’ve been pottering, in between everything else, putting together some ‘SOS adventure bags’ which I hope will eventually become a bit of a library of resources for families at church. SOS comes from the name of our church’s accessible service ‘sense of space’, but I love how it also means ‘help! rescue us!’ it seems incredibly apt on so many levels! Each bag is essentially (I hope) going to be an all age story sack with resources and ideas – with SEND in mind – for exploring a Bible story at home together.

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So far I have made a start with two very visual ones… Jonah, and Noah – both of course with plenty of scope for imaginative play ideas, colourful and sensory rich exploring experiences and good storytelling. Also both with really tough themes, God’s generous forgiveness (and our struggle with it), and God’s holiness and righteous judgement (and of course our struggle with it!).

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So I am now on the look out for just the right books to add to both of these, I’m thinking testimony/biography, short enough, inspiring and gutsy. I’ve also bought a prism which I need to make a little bag for – to explore rainbows and God’s promises. There are activities and website addresses to find out more in these too – which may need occasional updating but I love the idea of them being a rich & varied resource that will have something in to appeal to each member of a family (hopefully).

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Noah bag so far has: a rainbow dice with prayer ideas for each colour; a puzzle; an ark 7 animal playset; suggestions for imaginative play together to explore ‘rescue’; a lovely version of the story by Susie Poole; the prism with suggested activities; invitation to play a memory game to explore ‘remembered’; and hopefully a biography.

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Jonah bag so far has: story book (Lion childrens ‘my very first Bible stories’); a recipe for stained glass heart biscuits; British sign language signs to learn ‘I love you’, ‘sorry’; a big fish & a Jonah to play with, a sensory sand prayer tray in a tub – with prayer prompts in; a Topz diary (by CWR) looking at forgiveness – mine loved these in their tweens; a suggestion for play to explore hiding; a suggestion to measure things to explore how big God’s love might be; and a link to find out more about Ninevah and what we know about it from archaeology. And then a book for the grown ups to be decided!

So anyway, back to the salt dough… we rolled up our sleeves and dived in. My mind went straight to these bags. What about hanging decorations with a verse written across a few that can be hung in order and learnt? What about fish – they are not something I have a playset of – beautiful colourful, individual fish could make lovely tactile prayer prompts or be played with…

Then hands, and hearts. So many stories could be explored and experienced in a new way through these tactile shapes. So next out with the acrylic paints, and then the varnish and I can see the next couple of bags beginning to take shape.

Please, please comment with your ideas of things or activities, or good books I could potentially include in these bags…