S'mores and Sanitizer-The silence is over

S'mores and Sanitizer is a blog run by contributor Susan Sultzman. It can be found here This content was created on 6/13/14

Several weeks before I came to camp, I was here for staff orientation. We had a meeting where the nurses read down a whole list of special needs campers. This was a special opportunity for me to be able to explain to everybody firsthand about selective mutism, what it is, and how it affects my daughter Claudia. I also was able to make suggestions on how to interact with her best. For example: don’t push for answers if she does not respond. Ask yes or no questions when possible. Don’t be too friendly, or make a fuss over her, don’t ask for high-fives or hugs, and if she doesn’t respond verbally, act like you really didn’t notice she was mute.

The positive reaction from the counselors was astounding. Several came up to me throughout the day and told me how excited they were to work with Claudia. They found SM fascinating and saw it as a challenge to be the one to bring her around. (Of course in my mind I was thinking “Oh good luck with that one, get in line!”) Most of the counselors were from other countries, and one girl from England said that she had worked with a little boy with selective mutism. She was very excited to tell me all the techniques she used to bring this little boy out of the shell. I was very encouraged to know that Claudia would be surrounded by caretakers all committed to try their best to make her comfortable. But deep down I felt that it was impractical to get my hopes up too much.

So Camp Day finally arrived. I helped them unpack and settle in, bid them farewell, and then moved my own things into the Lodge. The first day or two, I was getting reports from Claudia’s counselors that she was doing well, but being very, very shy. No surprise there. They told me that they were just ignoring the fact that she wasn’t talking too much, and just asking her basic yes or no questions that she could respond to easily without words. By the second day one of the counselors was saying that she muttered some words very quietly only when it was absolutely necessary. However she was talking just fine with some of the girls and did not seem to mind that she was speaking in front of adults in a normal voice. She did not introduce introduce herself at the campfire, but the counselor did it for her. When I saw a Claudia around camp, she seemed happy and calm. She was really enjoying herself and I was content with that. Several counselors came up to me to tell me that they had introduced themselves to Claudia, And described their exchange using the techniques I had suggested. I was so impressed with their kindness and their consideration.

At about the third day, a counselor from the waterfront told me that Claudia had spoken quietly to her. “I don’t have a swimming buddy.” A whole sentence. To an adult. And to my surprise, I started to cry. In the next day or so, more reports of Claudia speaking started to trickle in. A few days after that, the reports started to pour in! Finally one cabin counselor came to me and said “does this girl have an ‘off’ switch?”

At Camp Netimus, my daughter Claudia does not have selective mutism. Last night at the campfire with the new girls that arrived earlier that day, Claudia introduced herself when it was her turn. There were about 175 people in attendance. And it’s all because the tailored attention and genuine caring that the these lovely mature young women have shown my daughter. People who did not even know us a month ago have been just as excited about Claudia’s emergence from her silence as my family, friends and I have been. I am overwhelmed by the magic that the staff here has created.