"Good morning Matthew. Did you sleep well? Get up, time for school." As his mother's cheery voice penetrates his private domain, the teenager mutters something incomprehensible and wriggles farther beneath his duvet.
"Come on, lazybones. Up you get!"
Wearily he drags himself from bed and shambles off somewhere. A few minutes later he's downstairs, shovelling in his breakfast as fast as it can go.
"Well dear, are you looking forward to your rugby match today?"
The only response given are the slurps and chews of devouring rice crispies.
Not to be put off, his mother tries again. "I sure hope you have a great time."
Ignoring the invitation to communicate, Matthew grabs his bag and flees out the door to catch the school bus.
Back inside his mother Helen droops. With trembling hands she punches some numbers into the phone and waits as it rings.
"Yeah, hi Christie. Look, can we meet up someplace? I just have to talk to you."
"And that's the problem, basically. Matthew acts like I don't even exist, and I just don't know what to do about it. I look at Mark and Matilda's cheeriness, and I remember Matty like that, but I just can't turn him back to normal. And my husband Henry is no use. All he does is assure me that Matthew will be fine and will grow out of it, don't worry. How can I not worry when my son has been struck dumb? I'd really love your advice."
Her friend Christie takes a thoughtful sip of coffee before answering. "Well, I can't really suggest anything from experience. You know that I don't have any kids."
"You lucky thing." Helen murmurs.
"But, if you want a suggestion, here's mine. It seems to me that the best thing to do is just talk. When he doesn't reply, talk some more. Fill the gaps in conversation with your talking."
"Okay, Christie, I'll give it a shot. I'd try anything!"
So for the next few weeks Helen acts bright and gabbly towards her son.
"Matthew, how was school? Did you win? Oh, I bet you did. You're just so strong and good at that game. Hey, do you want some juice? You know, I've been trying to tidy the house up a bit. I've finally managed to sort out the kitchen. Now I know where all my pans are!"
Alas, her attempts to talk with her laconic child are to no avail. Grunts and the occasional mono-syllable are her only response. Again in desperation Helen types a number into her phone.
"Tye, I need to talk. Can you come over?"
"So. Christie's idea didn't work. It's getting to the stage where I don't even know my son! I was thinking, since you've got kids maybe you could help?"
"Guess so. Christie's idea was rubbish. Complete nonsense. From my experience you need to do the exact opposite. Just say nothing. Give him food, wake him up, but don't embark in any needless conversation. After a while he'll get desperate for talk."
"Oh Tye, you are a lifesaver! Thanks."
And once again Matthew watches as his mother changes her behaviour entirely. Meals are eaten in complete silence, apart from the mindless chatter of the younger children. Matthew spends all his time in his room, away from talk, and whenever he emerges he is greeted with silence.
Yet once again, Helen's problem is not solved. Rather than reaching out for talk, Matthew seems to relish his seclusion. And so, for the third time Helen calls for advice. "Yes, hello? Look Mum, I could really use your help. Please?"
"I just don't know what to do. Nothing has worked, and if anything Matthew is becoming even more non-communicative. What did you do when you went through this?"
"Honey, why didn't you come to me first? Here's what to do; listen to your husband. He knows what Matthew's going through. Just treat Matthew like you always did. Give him time. He will grow out of it. Guaranteed."
"Okay Mum. If you say so."
And Matthew is again confused as his mother goes back to how she used to be. She treats him with equal doses of talk and silence, and patiently awaits the day he talks back. At the end of a few months her struggles are finally rewarded. Matthew recalls the art of talking. Ironically he accomplishes this feat just a week before Mark's thirteenth birthday. This time though, Helen knows what to do.
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