“Until I was ten years old, silence was my best friend. Except for my immediate family, the rest of the world was totally deprived of my voice. I would nod, shrug, or gesture, using anything but sound to communicate. This silence wasn’t ordinary shyness; my silence was due to a childhood anxiety disorder called selective mutism. At home, I was free to be me. I’d sing, argue and ramble at all hours. Away from home, I was painfully mute. People who knew me then would have never imagined that communication would become my passion, my first love.
My challenges with anxiety growing up didn’t only affect me. No matter how much my classmates implored as I participated noiselessly in recess games, I remained silent. I was lucky to be surrounded by patient teachers and a supportive family. They understood the difference between anxiety and shyness and knew when to probe. It was that consistent, loving environment that I credit for my recovery. I began to whisper spontaneously and eventually, I started speaking aloud in school I was welcomed into the world of speaking with open arms, but just as I was entering the world of sound, my parents transferred me to a French Immersion school. This major childhood transition had the potential of
returning me to a world of silence, but instead, it became an integral step in my love of communication.
Even before this new school, I became enthralled with foreign languages, but I was not only enamored by spoken words. Because I had inhabited a world of silence for several years, I understood the power of nonverbal communication, and this piqued my interest in American Sign Language. Self taught, I quickly gained competency. Thankfully, I never used ASL to retreat into silence, but it is now one of my most valued skills. Just last summer, I was hailed from across the mall by a friend trying to help a frantic deaf teen, and I was able to interpret successfully for her. A lost brother was located, and I experienced the power of a nonverbal language like never before. Not only had I found my way out of silence but was now able to be a vehicle of communication for someone else.
I emerged from this silence of my youth with a great respect for human connectedness, and my hard fought journey has influenced me in distinct ways. I will spend this summer completing my illustrated book titled, “Mia, Can You Talk?” My aim is to provide other young sufferers with hope and encouragement. I will also continue to add to my foreign language skills through my college studies and although I won’t call myself a polyglot just yet, I am on the way to pleasantly surprising those who once thought that I would never say a word.”