Highlands & Islands

How giraffes helped Poppy Campbell find her voice

Poppy Campbell and her mum
Image caption Poppy Campbell and her mum Sarah

A girl who barely said a word for the first four years of her life is now a "little chatterbox".

Poppy Campbell, six, from Inverness, was silenced by a combination of selective mutism and speech dyspraxia.

She said her first sentence when she was three-and-a-half when she thanked staff at a safari park for letting her help look after their giraffes.

Her parents Sarah and Steven said that thanks to help she went on to receive she now talks happily.

Poppy's mum told BBC Radio Scotland's The Kaye Adams Programme: "Just before she was 18 months old she just fell into complete silence.

"Even when she was crying she would make the face, and have tears but made no sound at all. It was so difficult."

Image copyright Blair Drummond Safari Park
Image caption Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park's giraffes

She added: "It sounds strange, but we had this sixth sense. Poppy would look at us and we knew what she wanted or needed."

'Bella's my favourite'

Initially, the family were told Poppy had "second child syndrome", meaning she did not feel the need to talk because her older sister Summer did all the talking for her.

But her parents remained concerned there was something wrong, going to first one speech therapist and then a second therapist.

Still, it took an encounter with giraffes at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, near Stirling, for Poppy to first find her voice.

Image caption Poppy Campbell enjoying the current wintry conditions in Inverness

Her mum said: "After our visit we were leaving the park and Poppy said to the staff: 'Thank you very much for letting me look after the giraffes. Bella's my favourite."

Poppy fell silent again for just under a year, before one night saying to her mum: "Mummy, I love you".

'Still upsets me'

Her parents, who also did their own research into her condition and used flash cards in the hope of helping her, credit a nursery teacher called Sammy Macleod and the second "amazing" speech therapist in finally "unlocking" their daughter's voice properly.

Poppy had been expected to be on a speech therapy plan for the full seven years of her primary school education, but was given discharge papers in June.

Image caption A dab hand at throwing snowballs as well as being a chatterbox

Her mum said: "I am one of those needy mums who needs to hear her children say they love her. To hear Poppy say 'Mummy, love you' that night still upsets me.

"But now she is a little chatterbox. You can't keep her quiet."

Image copyright Blair Drummond Safari Park
Image caption The safari park's giraffe Bella

Asked on the radio programme for an interesting fact on giraffes, Poppy said: "They have purple and blue tongues.

"And they eat lettuce."

Anna Biavati Smith, a speech therapist from the charity Selective Mutism Information and Research Association, told The Kaye Adams Programme that Poppy's issues with speech were rare but could be overcome with help.

Gary Gilmour, the safari park's manager, added: "Poppy's story is very touching and we are delighted that Bella the giraffe helped with her recovery."

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