Community Aids In Battle Against Selective Mutism
Three years ago, Jim and Janet Fittry of Hustontown were introduced to a new term - selective mutism. Selective mutism is defined as a social anxiety disorder in which an individual is afraid to speak. Help and research are very limited for this order, making it doubly difficult for this rural southcentral Pennsylvania family to obtain proper help and treatment for their 8- year-old son, Ryan.
According to Janet Fittry, her middle child was diagnosed with the disorder in 2006. While he has continued to maintain a dialogue with his parents and siblings within the confines of their 9131 Waterfall Road home, interaction does not occur with other people or even at Forbes Road Elementary, where Ryan is enrolled in the second-grade class of Carrie Gingrich.
His classmates and staffers at Forbes Road have adapted well to Ryan's nonverbal communication skills, which range from head nodding to a thumbs-up accompanied by a wide grin.
As a means of spreading awareness of the disorder and helping "Rid The Silence," the Fittry family sold whistles throughout the community for just 25 cents. Boxes containing the whistles, information packets and an outline of Ryan's condition were placed at Keller's Country Store and "The Fulton County News," resulting in a total of $85 raised.
Fittry also said McConnellsburg Borough resident Peggy Bailey joined the effort and sold the whistles herself after seeing them on display at "The Fulton County News."
"It was a great way to get the community aware of selective mutism and help other just like Ryan," said Janet. "The response was amazing. I never expected to raise that much money."
"The whole process was great for Ryan because he now knows he is not alone," added his mother. "I don't want others to think he is being rude or ignorant when he doesn't answer when others speak to him."
Janet stated they have purchased Ryan his own military whistle that he carries with him when they are away from home and to use as his voice in case of an emergency. Ryan along with his older brother, Zachary, and little sister Alyssa celebrated their achievement in the community as well as Ryan's eighth birthday on December 20 by blowing their whistles. Ryan's school classmates also joined the celebration by blowing their whistles, compliments of the Fittry family, at exactly 7 p.m.
"Ryan doesn't like the 'happy birthday song' as it brings direct attention to him," Janet related. "One of the best things that came from this was Ryan telling me he had a great birthday because no one sang Happy Birthday to him."
"It is a hard issue to deal with. One cannot imagine the difficulties and worries that comes by not talking because you are afraid," concluded Janet, while also expressing her sincere thanks to the entire community.