I don't want to stand out

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Maria Lee, 10, is in Year 5 at Hampton primary school, Herne Bay, Kent.

After a hospital stay at the age of one, she became clingy and ceased to speak. She was silent throughout playgroup and into school, talking only to her parents and siblings at home. Working with speech therapist Maggie Johnson over two years, she regained her speech.

"School was scary and I didn't want to go. I felt frightened in case anyone was going to tease me. I played with the other children but I didn't talk.

If the teacher asked me to read, I just had to mouth the words. One teacher tried to force me to speak. I was scared and embarrassed in front of the whole class. With my friends I could nod or shake my head. It made some of the teachers cross that they couldn't understand me.

I was about six when I met Maggie. We had puppets and I made little noises with my voice to make the puppets talk.

After that, we would do things like Maggie went in the kitchen and I was in the living room and she took a step in as I said a word. From when I was about eight, I would talk a little bit at school. I would say something like 'Hello', very quietly. I remember I went home from school with some balloons because I'd talked and it was to celebrate.

When teachers were helpful they said I could nod or shake my head. They didn't force me to talk. At the register I would hold my hand up and they would say 'You are here, Maria' and go on to the next person.

I can talk to lots of people now: all my teachers, except supply teachers.

My friends say 'Why didn't you speak when you were little?' I just say I can't remember."

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