So it's over. Or maybe it's just beginning, we're not completely sure, but aside from a few follow up phone calls and assessments, Tiny is officially done with Brave Camp.
It will likely take a while for us to process everything and share it with you, but for now, here are some things we're thinking:
1) We realize how fortunate we are to be able to give a Tiny this opportunity. It was the absolute best thing at the best time - for HER. Not everyone has the ability, the support, or the flexibility to do this. We are lucky. We are grateful.
2) If a professional tells you they have dealt with, heard about, worked with "selective mutes" they likely don't know their stuff. First of all, Selective mutism is pretty rare, affecting between .4 and .8 percent of the population. We had teachers, therapists, and other well-meaning professionals tell us they were capable of "dealing with it". They weren't. This place was - it's all they do. We didnt want our daughter labeled as a disorder, not did we want her "dealt with" - we wanted her loved, celebrated, encouraged. So if you're looking for a teacher, a therapist, a whomever to help you, our advice would be: find a therapist who specializes and a teacher who doesn't claim to - but loves your kid . We've been truly blessed to have both. Some kids we met weren't so lucky.
3) Its not so much that there were good and bad things about camp, but more that there were "good" and "less good" things about it. For example:
4)Parent training: for two hours each day we spent time in a classroom with other parents, and a Dr. who specializes in selective mutism. Between Rico and I, one of us got much more info out of these sessions. Mostly because we tend to parent a little differently and the techniques came easier to one of us. In addition, we'd done our research. The lead counselor did mention to us privately that we'd done a great job educating ourselves and that it was pivotal to Tiny's ability to make so many gains this week. Having said that, it was a lot of lecture, and for parents, I think there is much of it that can be learned without the 2,000 mile trip. Then again, being able to engage with her at camp, was really important, because . . .
5) Being at a camp with 18 kids who also struggle with speaking out, validated what Tiny is going through. It made practicing less weird, less isolating. Until now, she didn't know anyone else who had to practice looking people in the eyes, or rehearse asking where the bathroom is. She was mortified to have us mention it to her. It was like being the only oboe player in the orchestra, and suddenly going to oboe camp. Everybody wanted to get better, everybody was rewarded for trying new stuff. Having her counselors working on the same skills each day, made "brave talking" more like learning a new gymnastics skill, karate move, or campfire song. It just became a new, fun thing to accomplish.
6) What did she accomplish exactly? Well, if you've ever had the pleasure, you do know that the kid is capable of carrying on a rather verbose conversation (she wasn't awarded most sophisticated speaker for nothing). However, her eye contact, volume, ability to speak to us with a stranger in the room, answer a stranger's question, ask a question of anyone but her parents or even respond at all in certain cases was extremely limited. Chances are, if you met her in a Dairy Queen and asked her name, you'd be met with a deer-in-the headlights look, or a barely audible response. Asking her to purchase her own ice cream was out of the question. And having her ask what was in that chocolate extreme blizzard? Forget it. Tiny asked questions of no one.
But this week?
She approached the sales clerks in both Justice and Claire's and asked how much things cost - and they heard her.
She looked the waiter dead in the eye and asked him where the bathroom was.
She gave a report on her favorite toy and fielded questions in a room of 35 adults and 18 kids.
She went to the school nurse and asked for a band-aid.
She ordered her own food without any lip-biting, panic-breathing or sideways glances for parental support.
She finished a scavenger hunt in a large mall asking for samples, directions, and demonstrations.
She shouted through a bullhorn.
She sang the ABC's in a public place - 25 feet from me and we heard her.
She kept talking in her regular voice when a stranger entered the room.
She greeted someone in a Spanish - twice.
7) Rewards. Rewards are huge at brave camp. Rewards come in the form of check marks on your brave chart, which can be traded in for gold coins, which can be traded in for prizes from the treasure chest. Tiny loved this part of camp and amassed a rather large collection of plastic slinkies, finger puppets and headbands. As parents, we are expected to keep up this reward system for a while. There are not enough earrings in Claire's to keep up with her demands for new challenges. We may have to come up with a new plan.
8) I'm not saying this is a miracle camp. It isn't. But the complete immersion, the inability to avoid her worries or pass the buck onto a classmate or a sibling, the rewards for doing something that seems so simple, were all game changers. This kid isn't is a scaredy cat - she held a Burmese Python, a large arachnid and an alligator this week, while her sister (who performs for anybody she can) moved two rows back and hid her face when the guy brought out the tarantula. Tiny even learned to swim this week and has been a virtual mermaid ever since. But talking is her tarantula, and she was forced to hold it every waking moment for ten days. She was supported, loved, encouraged even applauded for doing it, and she was never shamed or embarrassed for wanting to give up - and that's when the magic happened.
Maybe that is the secret to everything - less judging, more love, more applause, and we can all become super-heroes.