Girl who couldn’t talk due to rare anxiety asked ‘are you stupid’ by grown adults

A woman who couldn’t talk as a child remembers how grown adults would ask her if she was “stupid”.

Niamh Foy, 19, recollected her troubling childhood which often saw her being subjected to bullying as people couldn’t understand why she was unable to speak.

Niamh was diagnosed as young as three with selective mutism, a rare type of anxiety caused by problems with the amygdala in the brain, the Liverpool Echo reports.

Alder Hey, where Niamh was diagnosed, said people with the condition have an overactive amygdala when they are stressed, causing their speech ability to shut down leaving them unable to speak.

The condition causes the sufferer to become effectively mute in environments such as school, going to the shops or playing sports.

The 19-year-old, who now aspires to become a speech therapist herself, said she felt lonely growing up.

But despite the cruelty of some classmates, she said she forgives her bullies her as they “didn’t understand what was wrong with me”.

In an interview with the BBC, she said she would feel “sad” as she watched her classmates play together while she was left alone.

“That’s the most upsetting thing about the condition – you can understand language perfectly, you just can’t reply,” she said.

“Your voice, and your identity, is stolen from you.”

But it wasn’t just children that reacted cruelly to Niamh’s condition.

Niamh said as she struggled to talk, adults would ask if she was being rude or put her silence down to bad behaviour or a lack of intelligence.

She said: “I remember being asked ‘are you stupid?’ by a lot by people in shops or at the park, because I couldn’t reply to them when they spoke to me.”

Years of speech therapy at Alder Hey, Niamh said, changed her life and put her on the path to recovery.

She said her therapist worked with the school to ensure she was “treated equally” and class eventually understood her condition and started including her more.

As a teenager, Niamh wanted to give something back to Alder Hey and joined a team of volunteers made up of young people who have used the hospital’s services in the past.

Since then she has visited universities to talk to doctorate-level clinical psychology students about their work and develop apps for young people struggling with their mental health.

Over lockdown, she has also set up her own online page, ‘Niamh’s Live-Streams’ where she streams live a couple of times a week to give company to others who might be living alone or struggling with their mental health.