SM, constipation and animal therapy

A common difficulty for children suffering from selective mutism, and also many other anxious children, is constipation. This story opened my eyes to how bad it can be, and it also reminded me of the incredible healing power of animals. Animals often seem to possess a magical quality that helps to melt away tension and anxiety, and in the story below it was a border collie who transformed the life of Abby Wilson’s son. Written by Abby Wilson … 

Border-collieIt is common for children with selective mutism to also have constipation. My son has had SM since he was at least 2.5 years old, when he started kindy. I knew he was shy and didn’t like talking to the teachers but neither did I. I was slightly concerned and also mildly amused when I talked to the head teacher one day and told her that my son had missed her the previous day (when she was away sick) and hoped that she was feeling better. She looked surprised and said “He said that to you? I didn’t think he could talk at all.” I said yes of course he can talk, he has a very good vocabulary and an excellent imagination. After that I realized that he didn’t talk much outside of the house or very familiar places, only to my parents but not to my husband’s parents. I did some research and found out about SM, it was obvious to us that this is what he had.

From 2.5 years onwards he also had very bad constipation, he was very good at weeing in the toilet but nothing could make him do No.2s. He had to go on laxatives, have enemas and x-rays. One x-ray showed the poo backing all the way back to his stomach! At night he was still wearing a nappy as he was not toilet trained over-night and often did skid marks Sometimes, when we put the nappy on he would sneak off and hide and cry and push it out, in agony. Often, he would push so hard that he would vomit and shake. It was awful. We tried everything from sticker charts, food rewards, toy rewards, shouting, punishment, poo songs, letting him sit on the toilet with his nappy on and trying to go… but none of it worked. All that happened was that it became a massive point of stress and anxiety for both of us even when we were trying to be calm and sing songs and use timers.

By the time he was five and had started school, he was too scared to go to the toilet at all, he would hold it in all day and drink nothing so he didn’t have to go. Even though he tried to hold the poo in, small amounts were escaping onto his undies while he was at school, meaning he was extremely smelly during the day.

One day I was at the end of my tether, we were looking after my parents’ dog (a large, slightly fat border collie) I decided to try locking the dog in the toilet with my son. They have a very close bond, she always runs straight to his bedroom when she comes round to our house and he talks to her! To my great surprise and elation, he sat on the toilet happily talking to her and eventually did a poo. Luckily we were looking after the dog for few weeks so we were able to get into a routine of him sitting happily on toilet every day with the dog and it must have cleared the backlog! Since this time (1 year ago) amazingly he has been able to go fairly regularly and has stopped doing the skid marks and stopped stinking during the day at school. If we feel like a log jam is starting to form, then we borrow the dog and get things back on track again. This may work for you if you have a friendly dog you can dog sit.

Kathryn HarperSM, constipation and animal therapy
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Animal therapy and selective mutism

12962548_10154065891656944_1398684884_oAnimals are amazing. Their unassuming, accepting nature makes it easy for children to relax and to be themselves around them, and so there are many occasions when a family pet – or any animal contact – can make all the difference to a child suffering from anxiety.

One such story is this one, of Owen and his little dog, Ling, which was published in 2015 as part of Rachel Hale McKenna’s photobook, Little Loves. This book captures ‘New Zealand children and their favourite animals’ and is available to purchase from this link. Photographs provided by Owen’s Mum, Maree Turner.


Kathryn HarperAnimal therapy and selective mutism
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