Ever since I took Emilee to a pilot study at KKH, I learnt of the term “stranger anxiety” that describes her behaviour. The people close to me will know that Emilee does not really talk or interact with people outside of the home. This includes her own maternal grandparents and other relatives. It’s not that she has a problem with speech; in fact, her language skills are quite advanced. She just chooses not to speak.
Even after one year of school, she still doesn’t speak to her teachers or classmates. There is slight improvement though. She does participate in class activities now. Before this, her teacher said she would just stand still and refuse to move along to the music. She does enjoy school nonetheless — evident from our conversations about school. In the last few months, she progressed to waving hi and good bye to her teachers and classmates. She even does this to the friendly cleaner at our block. She also stopped shying away from playing at the playground when other kids are around.
This problem has been on my mind for some time and while I am toying with the idea of bringing her to a therapist, I also expect the therapist to tell me that no one will know for sure when Emilee will step out of this phase.
Then just two days ago, her teacher reported that she uttered simple words like thank you in school. I thought that was fantastic news. Perhaps it was a sign that she is slowly gaining confidence to speak to people.
And then there was yesterday’s episode. She was struggling with her lunch at school and was not done with it when I went to pick her up. It took a while for the teachers to realise that she was fussing over her meal because there were vegetables in it. (Something that she is now being picky over.) She walked out in tears. A short while later, her teacher came out to talk to me. Her teacher reported that Emilee cried at breakfast and lunch. During breakfast, she cried because she wanted another mantou but her teacher didn’t want to give it to her before she finished her milo. During lunch, she burst into tears after a teacher told her to take bigger mouthfuls of her noodles. (She was eating it strand by strand.) Her teacher also reported that she would not speak to indicate that she wanted to go to the toilet halfway through her meal. Emilee would just stare at them and hope they look her way before guessing that she needed the loo. I could only offer a bit of information about how Emilee’s stranger anxiety is very strong and that we can only be patient and wait for this phase to pass, however long it takes.
It is frustrating to be hopeful that your child is improving and then next minute she seems not to be. But I suppose that’s how it is with children. Humans are complex creatures and children are humans too. My job as Emilee’s mother is to keep encouraging her and not give up on her. I also hope that the people around her are just as patient and not give up on her too.