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Silent teen

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danluke_36

Silent teen

It's a bit of a whirlwind story. I've just taken on a 14yo girl from my best mate. His wife died in a car crash when his daughter was 2, and he passed away last year in May due to illness he'd been fighting for a few years. I took on the role of her guardian.

I've never had a ton to do with her as I work weekends and my mate and I normally met up for dirt bike rides and lunches during the weekdays when and she was usually at school. I started going over for dinners and helping out the two of them with food and chores and helping him get to medical appointmentsthe final 10-12 months so did start seeing her a lot more, but I could never get a reaction from her then either. I'm 32 but definitely don't feel it, I like kids but I'm not really big into romantic relationships so never intended on having a family, and feel like I've never been so ill equipped in my life. I am, however, really eager to foster a relationship with her and create the best environment and foundation for her as I can. Despite the problems we're having, I can't imagine life without her and I love her to bits.

The problem: I have had her for over 12 months now and I have taken her to counsellors, psychologists, sports, everything I can think of (and they could think of), but I can't get her to talk. I'll get one or two word answers to questions, sometimes. I've been called in by all her teachers who've said she won't talk and gets straight As for exams and assignments but won't talk for public speaking or group tasks and won't answer questionsor talk to them if they go over to her desk. She apparently just goes down to sports courts at lunches and plays basketball or netball on her own. She'll join in with other kids if asked, but won't talk or react emotionally at all. She'll join in with anything we do on weekends (I adjusted work so I'm always able to go to her school and be home on weekends), but I cannot get her to converse. She also seems unable to pick things she likes. If we go to a grocery store or a clothes store and I say find something you like, she just stays still next to me and doesn't react.
I don't know why, she won't write it, she won't talk or explain it, I don't know what to do. I can understand she may have been shocked and upset when her father passed away, but nothing has changed at all since I first took her on and it seemed similar beforehand anyway, with both me and her father. He always said she was shy growing up but this seems extreme and he never worded it like this. She's also underweight and wont eat anywhere near the amount she should be but I can't understand why when she won't talk. Any suggestions?

Community Manager
Philippa-RO

Re: Silent teen

Message contains a hyperlink

@danluke_36 I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, you're doing an amazing thing in being there for this young girl who has lost both her parents. 
I just wanted to let you know I've edited out names in accordance with our guidelines.

You've taken on such a lot and your love for and devotion to your child is so clear.
Do you have any support around you?

It sounds like your child has significant trauma, having lost both her parents so young. I'm also a carer and I empathise with how challenging it can be knowing how best to support children who've experienced trauma - its impact is heartbreaking.

In terms of supporting her, many people who are caring for children with trauma find therapeutic parenting approaches to be helpful - if you're interested in reading more about it, this is a nice summary of what therapeutic parenting is about.


She may not seem to have responded to counselling or psychology appointments well so far, but I would highly recommend persevering. It sounds like you're doing all the right things in supporting her, but this sounds like an issue that's best addressed with professional help.

Do you think she'd be open to trying again with counselling?

If so, I'm wondering - have you tried any professionals who are experts in selective mutism?
I'm not an expert and I don't know if it's what your child has, but a professional with experience in that area might be a helpful place to start. 

I'm so glad you posted here on the forum - we're here any time you need to talk.

Casual scribe
danluke_36

Re: Silent teen

Thank you.
Do you think its best I go in with her to see professionals like counsellors or is it better I stay in the waiting room so she only has to talk to them and can't use me as an excuse to not talk? She definitely has a habit of turning away when doctors ask her questions or try to talk to her, prompting me to do it for her. Is there a way to get her to respond in some more comfortable way or do I just do it for her and hope she gets more confident?
I did bring up the possibility of selective mutism with her (lifelong) local gp but they've just brushed it off as she's always just been shy and it's nothing to worry about. So I've been taking her to psychologists without a referral because her gp said it wasn't necessary, just hoping I'm picking the right one. Do you think we just need to try a different gp or a different counsellor? Or stay with the same counsellor and persist with them? For the most part, they've just said she's shy and probably needs more time to come to terms with the loss of her dad but I'm not sure trauma has to do with his death as she was doing it before his death, and she hasn't changed her habits at all.
Community Manager
Bre-RO

Re: Silent teen

Hi @danluke_36 as mentioned above, it sounds like you are a really solid person for this young woman. You mentioned feeling out of your depth but from what you've said so far, you are doing a really good job.

 

In regards to your questions: 

 

Going into the counselling appointments might be a good idea, my only advice would be to gauge whether or not your friends daughter is comfortable with it. I know she isn't talking much so that might be hard. Maybe asking yes/no questions such as "Would you feel comfortable if I were to join you for one or two of your sessions?" 

 

It might help open up some dialogue and will also show her how committed you are to her. My other  thought was that it  could be a good idea for you to also speak to someone - to get some support for you but also to get some tips on how to build her confidence. 

 

I can understand why you're thinking of getting a second opinion - it definitely doesn't hurt to shop around and see what professionals say. It sounds like this young woman has had a lot of challenges to face in her life - I'm glad she has you on her side! 

Casual scribe
danluke_36

Re: Silent teen

Thank you.

I've asked her if she wants me in with her before and she always nods/shakes her head in the direction of wanting me in with her, I was just thinking that if I didn't go in would it maybe push her to speak or would it just not work even more? Because I always end up answering questions for her and she knows I'll answer if she just stays silent. I have never sent her in by herself because she shakes her head about going in alone, but there was another young girl there the last time and she went in by herself.

The sessions we have gone to end up being aimed at supporting me anyway because she won't respond to them much. They've given some ideas about working on confidence, particularly surrounding taking an interest in things she likes and spending time with her and vocalising to her even if she doesn't respond, but I don't know what her favourite anything is. She'll usually nod and shake her head or gesture but as soon as I give her a choice, she shuts down, so I have no idea what her interests are or even what her favourite food is. I tried to put my foot down on one occasion about her picking an icecream out and she had to pick which one she wanted. It took her over 4 hours, i never got impatient or anything, we were at a bike race track so we had plenty of time, and I gave her a ton of praise afterwards, but then next time I tried to do it she just froze so I can't do that because I think it scared her and just made it worse. If I word it as "do you want x" I can get a nod or shake but if I go "which one of xs do you want" or "do you want x or y" I can't get a response.

I'm glad you said that as I felt bad doubting a doctor (I've never gone for a 2nd opinion before). I've switched her over to the same doctor practice I go to, which is much closer to where I live, so we're going to go see what they say tomorrow.
Scribe
jjhemmy

Re: Silent teen

WOW....what a wonderful thing you have done to take in and love on this young lady. She has been through some trauma...and sounds like you are are truly giving her what she needs right now.  I have two teenagers...and even in a family that has pretty "trauma" free- it is hard.  Just keep loving her and talking to her and keeping her in therapy.  Is there someone in her life before her Dad passed away that was important? Grandparents? Family? Teachers? Coaches or anyone that she might like to connect with and maybe chat with?  What is she like at school?  Is she willing to participate at school or mainly just quiet with you?   My oldest teen did suffer from a bit of anxiety when she went through puberty and she landed in her room a ton.  She has since ventured out and is part of the family again. I would find time when she seemed open to it...and try to just chat with her.  Are there any TV shows or books that you have that you could read together...or have her read and then discuss after?  What are the things she is interested in?  Just wanted to give you props for loving her- even in the midst of it being so hard.  Keep her in the counseling- sounds like she has shoved everything down deep- and the pain is taking over.

Community Manager
Bre-RO

Re: Silent teen

Hey @danluke_36 

 

It sounds very challenging trying to engage her but your persistent effort would be making a difference. Even if she isn't speaking, she would be able to see that you are by her side. 

 

I understand your concerns when it comes to speaking for her. She clearly trusts you so there might be times where you do step in and other times where you might challenge her to express herself. I'm also happy to hear that you are getting some support with this too. 

 

I am a big believer in getting different perspectives from health professionals to inform your choices. It definitely sounds worthwhile to investigate her lack of communication, just in case there is more to it. 

 

You're doing really well! Please feel free to keep letting us know where you are at with this and we will help any way we can. 

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