My Son Taught Me To Be Less Judgemental
Janet Wong (52) from Singapore has had to deal with Selective Mutism in her son from an early age, but she wishes she could have detected the symptoms earlier to make her son feel more at ease. The child in this case needs to be loved and cared for by the family at every stage, she feels.
What is Selective Mutism?
Selective Mutism (SM) an extreme form of anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech does not speak in specific situations or to some specific people.
When was he diagnosed? What were the early symptoms?
He was diagnosed in 2003. He started with being very quiet and would not dare to communicate with people.
Is there a history of Selective Mutism in your family?
What is his present condition?
It has improved though at times he still feels the anxiety whenever he feels threatened. He will shut himself the room and listen to music. He will talk less whenever the anxiety arises.
Now he does more activities on his own, he plays drum and likes drawing caricatures for his friends. He is happy to share his thoughts especially after his book 'Silence is not Golden' was published.
Please describe his experience of managing his condition?
He would get tensed up and his motor skills would shut down whenever he would be outside his comfort zone. This condition is also known as 'Social Anxiety' and it is always misunderstood by people who are not familiar with the symptoms
What medications is he on?
He is not on any medications as of now.
What were some of the challenges you faced and what is your advice to patients and caregivers who face similar challenges?
It was a painful experience to raise a special needs child, especially as we were not particularly able to help him when the disorder hit him. But I do feel that even our presence with them is crucial, at least they feel that we still love them. My advice would be to tackle each incident at a time. To the patient I would say the family is always there for him, trust them and have faith in them. To the caregiver, I would say that don't focus on the problem, but rather lookout for every solution to the problem. Sometimes, we also need to share our thoughts with our loved ones or even with our close friend.
What kind of specialists do you consult and how often?
Pyschologist, once every 3 weeks
What resources are available to you in your city to help you manage the condition?
SAMH (Singapore Association of Mental Health) – Youthreach is a platform to connect the youth who come together with different conditions and the centre creates activities for them to participate. This is a centre where youths converge after they have been recommended by hospital doctors, a place where they have social workers to help the youth according to their conditions. Every youth is partnerned with a social worker. The centre also organises activities or programmes for the youth to attend, for example, art therapy, horse therapy and some social outings organised by volunteers. The programmes are usually organised by Youthreach's staff and management.
Have you and your family had to make some changes to your lifestyle because of his condition?
Yes, we have to accommodate his sensitiveness and mood swings.
Have you tried complementary medicine or therapies, like TCM, art therapy, yoga or martial art?
Art therapy, horse therapy, various self esteem programmes, meditation, etc.. For example, Nigel previously attended art therapy at Goodman Art Centre and practised drawing to release his stress. Recently, Nigel has enrolled himself for drumming and caricature drawing.
Can you describe the emotional journey of coping with your son’s condition?
I felt lost and helpless when I was not able to help him during his meltdowns. I usually discussed the situation with my husband and we solved the matter together. At times, I even sought help from the social workers at Youthreach.
Did you see a counsellor for support? Were you offered counselling by doctor?
Yes, we saw a social counsellor provided by Youthreach. Youthreach is a centre under the organisation of Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH) where mentally challenged youths come together to learn some life skills and participate in the centre activities.
How has the support from family and friends been for him and for the family?
The family is supportive and listens to his thoughts when he wants to share and tries to accommodate his mood swings. Nigel doesn't have many friends, he only has friends from Youthreach, so they share their problems and they accompany each other to movies and outings.
How was the support from his school and his friends?
The school counsellor and teachers did step in. But he did not get much support from his friends in school.
What was the hardest part of the diagnosis and treatment ? What kept you going? How has this changed your life perspectives..
The toughest thing was the total motor shut down by Nigel, whenever he got bullied in school and did not know how to defend himself. As a parent, we need to protect our child. Even if we feel vulnerable sometimes, we still need to appear strong.
I thank you my son, Nigel, for allowing me to be more patient and share more love with people. And also be less judgmental in every situation.
Do you wish for anything to have been different in the journey.
I wish I could have detected Nigel's condition earlier to help him to clear his anxiety sooner. Listen to your child if they need to talk you.
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