Finding Daisy’s voice

Today our post comes from Anna Cale, journalist and NHS people and service delivery manager, who is sharing with us the journey she has taken as a mother with a daughter who has selective mutism.

I recently had the opportunity to work as a production assistant on an award winning short film. The hours were long, the writer/director was unpredictable, and the work was demanding. I had to deal with the diva behaviour of the main feline star, and keep the production focussed and on time. It was three months of emotional turmoil but I loved every minute. Because I love the amazing little girl who made it.

My eight year old daughter Daisy’s short film ‘The Secret Agent Cat’ recently won an award. It was an amazing experience for her to be nominated and attend the glitzy ceremony at Leeds Town Hall, but to win something was just fantastic. For any young child to have the vision, focus and discipline to make a film is to be admired. This wasn’t a school project, apart from me she didn’t have any help and she wasn’t corralled into it. It came from the heart and a love of film.

But Daisy’s love of film has stemmed from her experience of having an anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. When she was younger she wasn’t able to speak to most people, just me, my husband and my mum. She just couldn’t speak, even though she wanted to. So she made little films with her toys and provided the voices and narration and showed people. That was how she found a way to share her voice.

Daisy’s Selective Mutism meant that, although she was chatty and full of beans with me and my husband she found it incredibly hard to speak to others. She wanted to speak, but couldn’t get the words out. This was so difficult to deal with as a parent, and it was heart-breaking to see her struggle. Things became big in her mind and she felt really anxious, and this led to her fear or inability to speak in public. She could communicate non-verbally, by nodding and pointing at things, which is how she managed at nursery, but we were very concerned as she got nearer to starting school. We needed to find a way to support her to build her confidence but didn’t really understand what we could do.

We worked with a Speech and Language Therapist to identify ways we could encourage her, but it was incredibly hard to deal with and at first none of the techniques seemed to work. As I searched for more information on the condition, I felt very alone. Although there was guidance available for professionals dealing with Selective Mutism in children, I struggled to find anything from the point of view of parents. I always appreciate the chance to communicate with others, to share stories and learn from other people’s experiences. If I was struggling, surely others were too? So I started my own blog to capture our journey with Daisy. I found it incredibly helpful to write about it as I tried to process the emotions I was feeling. I also hoped that by recording our journey, I could reach out to others and help them. I did everything I could to help my daughter, and I used my own strong voice to raise awareness. I spoke on the radio, I wrote journal articles, I used social media, anything that would keep me focussed and positive.

After Daisy started school, we eventually found a breakthrough with her Selective Mutism and she started to build her confidence with communication and overcome her anxiety. She has gone from strength to strength and I’m so incredibly proud of her. She has also continued to make short films, although now it’s really just for fun. She started to incorporate stop motion animation as well as creating her own characters. When she was six she decided she wanted to enter a film competition. I really loved helping her with it. A mix of puppetry and stop motion animation, it was a triumph, and that crazy film was her in action and pure joy to watch. She was nominated for a Leeds Young Animator of the Year award. She didn’t win, but the experience was amazing and only inspired her to enter again.
This year’s film had a brilliant story arc and was much more coherent.

Again, I was delighted to help with the project. I had to play the bossy producer role to get her to focus and actually do it rather than just talk about it, but she finished in good time for the deadline. My husband and I helped with the voices, and friends very kindly provided their pets for the cast of cats and dogs. It was great fun.
Through continuing to write my blog and sharing our journey on Twitter, Daisy has built up a bit of a fan base over the last few years, so I wasn’t the only one who was delighted when her film was shortlisted for a Golden Owl award.

To see her enjoying the awards ceremony, all dressed up, was wonderful. They showed a clip of her film and she was delighted that the audience laughed in the right places (she has a great comedy instinct). When her name was announced she didn’t feel able to speak on stage, so I went up with her. I tried to hold back the tears as I gave a little speech, thanking the cast of cats and dogs and only faltering as I mentioned that film had helped Daisy to find her voice. But it is so true. The confidence she has gained, and the pure enjoyment of it all, is so important. It’s also a wonderful shared experience for us as mother and daughter too. Since winning her award she has even had a film commission! I will happily support and encourage her with these projects for as long as she likes. Her imagination and enthusiasm are an absolute gift, and to think that something that came out of necessity has become such a positive part of her identity is amazing. She is an inspiration. Creating her films makes her happy and she truly has found her voice.

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