Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 08:12 UK

Parents raise concern over mutism

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Family raise concerns over mutism

The parents of a girl suffering from a rare speaking disorder are to voice their concerns about her condition to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Morys Gruffydd and Meleri Mcdonald's daughter Erin suffers from selective mutism which causes her to stop speaking in certain social situations.

It affects six in 1,000 children but is said to be increasing.

But the Ceredigion couple plan to raise awareness about its effects by meeting the Education Minister, Jane Hutt.

Selective mutism is described as a rare psychological disorder in children where they are fully capable of speech but fail to speak in certain situations.

This ranges from a reluctance to speak at times stopping them from functioning normally in places like school.

Those who suffer from the condition can appear to be severely withdrawn with some unable to participate in group activities.

Erin whispering to her teacher
Erin is able to whisper to most of the teachers at her school and some pupils

However, when they get home into an environment where they feel more comfortable then they can speak quite freely or even excessively.

Experts say that early diagnosis is crucial but families who have been affected by the condition say teachers can often miss the symptoms.

Nine-year-old Erin is almost totally silent during her classes at Llanfarian primary school near Aberystwyth but speaks normally to her family when they are all alone at the home in the village of Blaenplwyf.

"Erin can speak totally naturally and freely at home with close members of the family but as soon as somebody from outside the family comes into the room she feels her throat literally closing up and she can't get the words out," explained her mother.

"Wherever she doesn't feel comfortable and relaxed physically she can't speak.

Encouragment

"There was no indication at all there was any problem at home but when she started at nursery school when she was three years old I think you could compare it to stage fright - she panicked and froze."

Ms Mcdonald said before diagnoses her daughter was thought of as a stubborn child who needed discipline.

Now Erin is now able to talk in whispers to most of the staff and a couple of her fellow pupils.

This has occurred after a lot of encouragement and help from both her parents and grandmother, Delyth Mcdonald, who is also her teacher at school.

"It's impossible for her to do any oral work in front of the whole class because of this phobia she has of hearing her own voice in certain situations," explained Mrs McDonald.

Her family are now hoping their meeting with Ms Hutt will help others recognise the condition.

"I think that the very fact that the education minister is going to be present will be a huge step forward in terms of raising awareness which is the main aim of our visit," Mr Gruffydd said.


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