Eight-year-old is cured of her selective mutism following holiday of a lifetime: Girl speaks to her sister and school friends for the first time following years of only talking to her dad
- Katie Wallace, from Lancashire, suffered for years with selective mutism
- She was only able to talk to her father and not children at school or her sister
- But a holiday to Tenerife has got her chatting, which her father calls ‘a miracle’
- Katie was helped by local charity Days of Sunshine, which organised the trip
An eight-year-old girl has spoken to her sister and school friends for the first time ever after a ‘miracle’ holiday cured her selective mutism.
Katie Wallace has always been able to speak to her father, but crippling anxiety meant she would clam up around others.
However, a once-in-a-lifetime charity trip to Tenerife in May this year left Katie so excited and carefree she was soon chatting after suffering in silence for seven years.
Katie was diagnosed with selective mutism – a severe anxiety disorder – when she was just four years old, leaving her unable to speak to anyone except her father.
Her father Fin, 52, says Katie had a difficult childhood before he took full custody of her when she was two, and speech therapy did not help her.
Now, he says, she is a changed person after the holiday: ‘The other day I saw her singing and dancing with her friends and it brought a tear to my eye.’
Katie Wallace spent years being able to only speak to her father, Fin (right), but a holiday in Tenerife changed their lives when she suddenly became able to chat to strangers
Katie and her father, from Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, went on the life-changing holiday thanks to money raised by local charity, Days of Sunshine.
The charity takes children away throughout the year and believed Katie – who had never been out of the country before – would benefit from a fun trip in the sun.
Speaking of Katie’s incredible progress Mr Wallace said: ‘She’s a different child, I can’t believe it.
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‘When I say she was silent, she was completely mute for seven years.
‘I can’t believe how much of a difference the holiday has made. I can’t pinpoint exactly what made the difference I think it was a mixture of everything.
‘A new place, amazing activities and new friends that she felt comfortable with, I don’t even think she realised she’d started to interact.
‘She was just too excited and loving life, it was incredible to see.
‘It’s quite a journey we have been on and it feels like this has been a miracle holiday.’
Katie has suffered from selective mutism for years which, although it is called selective, is not deliberate and leaves children physically unable to talk.
Katie was ‘completely mute for seven years’, her father says, and could not speak to her teachers or classmates at school
When Katie and father Fin went on a holiday organised by a local charity, she suddenly became able to speak to other people and enjoy herself
Before her holiday Katie Wallace (top) was unable to even speak to her older sister, Emma, 28 (pictured right and, left, her daughter Olivia)
She is now able to speak to her teacher, albeit not in front of the class, and she is able to chat with school pals and her big sister Emma Wallace, 28.
He father believes a lot of Katie’s anxieties are down to her early childhood before he took over her full-time care when she was two.
Mr Wallace said: ‘She’s already been through so much, she’s such a delicate little thing and I just want the best for her.
‘Katie would suffer in silence and not tell people if she was in pain’
‘I can’t begin to tell you how awful it was, she would suffer in silence if I wasn’t around not telling anyone if she felt poorly or was in pain.
‘She didn’t show expressions either, a clown could run into the classroom and she would not flinch.’
Mr Wallace was starting to feel helpless and was worried Katie would continue to suffer from her selective muteness for the rest of her life.
Mr Wallace thinks his daughter (pictured age five) suffered with mutism because of anxiety which began before he took custody of her when she was two
Now Katie, 8, can talk to people for the first time and is ‘a different child’, Mr Wallace says
‘No one knew how to help’
He said: ‘No one knew how to help, the school did their best but all you know is what you read on the internet.
WHAT IS SELECTIVE MUTISM?
Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that prevents children speaking in certain social situations, such as school lessons or in public.
However, kids are able to speak freely to close family and friends when nobody else is listening – for example, when they’re at home.
It’s important to understand that when the mutism happens, the child is not voluntarily refusing to speak but is literally unable to speak, feeling frozen. In time, they learn to anticipate the situations that provoke mutism and do all they can to avoid them.
Experts believe SM is a phobia of talking.
Most children will work their way through SM with sympathetic support, although they may remain reserved and anxious in social situations.
Source: NHS Choices
‘She had a speech therapist but I didn’t think that would help as her speech itself is fine, she is very articulate when she talks to me.’
Experts think selective mutism is a phobia of talking, and most children can overcome it with support.
Mr Wallace, who is unemployed after having a heart attack and being diagnosed with cancer in 2015, said it was distressing for Katie when he was in the hospital.
‘I was in the hospital for two weeks and Katie had to stay with her big sister Emma while I was recovering,’ he said.
‘She must have felt so lonely’
‘I can’t even begin to imagine how scared she must have been as it was the first time we had been apart and she knew I wasn’t very well.
‘She must have felt so lonely not speaking to anyone for so long.
‘It is incredible the change in her in the last month, I am so grateful to the charity – they have changed our lives beyond words.
‘The other day I saw her singing and dancing with her friends and it brought a tear to my eye.’
Charity worker noticed how shy Katie was when she visited the shop
David Lee, 65, who works at the Days of Sunshine charity said they have known Katie for over a year.
They noticed she was shy when she went into the shop, and tried to welcome her but never saw her speak until the holiday.
Mr Wallace in unemployed because he suffered a heart attack and cancer in 2015, during which time Katie had to stay with her sister’s family, who she was unable to talk to
The Lancashire charity Days of Sunshine took Katie and her father to Tenerife after finding out about her ordeal when they visited the charity’s shop more than a year ago
He said: ‘She first came in the charity shop with her dad looking at clothes to buy and I remember thinking she was so shy.
‘Then after her dad explained about her select mutism we’d always try and make her feel comfortable in the shop but she never felt confident enough to speak.’
‘I can’t get over how much good the trip has done for her’
The local charity funds trips abroad for local children who deserve a break and Katie along with 18 others went to Tenerife in May.
Mr Lee said: ‘I knew the trip would be good for Katie, but I can’t get over how much good it has done for her.
‘It has been wonderful to see, you could see her getting more comfortable and familiar with the other children and two days in she suddenly started communicating with the others.’
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