ON the first day of Primary Two, Grace Tedeschi stopped talking.

At first her parents Marc and Louise thought she was joking, playing the sort of trick kids like to play on their mum and dad.

The couple prompted and cajoled, yet couldn’t break their daughter’s silent resolve as they made breakfast and got her ready for school.

But when they left their six year old girl at the Inverkip Primary gates that morning, it was with a creeping sense of concern.

It would be eight months before she spoke to them again.

“You just start your day normally, and you do all the normal things to get them up,” said Grace’s dad Marc, recalling the day his daughter fell silent.

“She wouldn’t get up. Nothing. She just lay there pretending to be asleep. We got her downstairs, got her breakfast, but she wouldn’t eat it, still pretending she was asleep. Eventually we had to dress her and carry her out to the car. She only opened her eyes at the school gate.”

“She didn’t say goodbye that day,” said Grace’s mum Louise. “And that was the last time we heard her speak for eight months."

There had been moments in Grace’s life prior to that morning which gave her parents cause to wonder.

Louise said: “When she was around two, we noticed she wasn’t talking to folk when she should have been saying ‘thank you’ or whatever, just certain things in certain situations.

“Then when she went to nursery she wouldn’t speak to her nursery teachers. That was when we flagged it up.”

“I initially put it down to shyness,” said Marc, who lives with his family in Inverkip on the banks of the lower Clyde. “Then I thought it was behavioural, a bad mood. After another full day of not talking to us, we worried. And she didn’t seem to know why.”

As trivial as it sounds, the pair knew something was wrong when Grace refused sweets.

“She couldn’t be bribed,” said Louise, a 36-year-old nurse. “She wouldn’t give a ‘thank you’ in return for a chocolate bar. No matter what you were offering her, she just wouldn’t do it.”

During that time, Grace spoke to only one person in the world - her little sister Eva

“Then, one day, boom,” said Louise. “She walked into the house after being at her gran’s and spoke to us as if nothing had happened. But the therapists we’d spoken to told us not to make our surprise obvious.”

These days, Grace will still only speak to a small number of people in her life; grandparents, some aunts and uncles, some friends.

“She asks us to explain to people that we’re meeting now that she won’t talk to them,” said Louise. “She must feel uncomfortable sometimes.”

The more her parents sought information, the more Grace’s symptoms appeared to point to selective mutism, a condition soon ascribed to the schoolgirl by professionals.

“But even when we got that diagnosis, it still didn’t feel right,” said Marc, 41, an assistant manager for technology outsourcing firm Webhelp.

“When you read up on that condition, the children tend to be withdrawn, they don’t have many friends, and they don’t want the limelight. So although she showed some traits of selective mutism, we decided to pursue a second opinion.”

Now 11, Grace is anything but withdrawn. Although silent, within minutes of meeting the Sunday Herald team, she was bounding around the room, offering high fives and exchanging fist bumps.

Neither does she shun the limelight. In fact, the opposite could be said to be true.

The chance arrival of a kids drumkit in the family home five years ago would go on to provide the child with a remarkable means of self-expression well beyond any of her loved one’s initial expectations.

Louise said: “Grace didn’t play with toys at all even as a toddler.She just always read books or wanted to be read to.

“We got a wee drum kit because it looked cute, really. And Grace just would not get off it. So I contacted a drumming teacher to see what we could do.”

The couple’s determination led to a revised diagnosis of Asperger’s, a form of autism, and with it, an acceptance that Grace’s selective mutism was one of a number of possible traits associated with the condition.

Now 11, Grace is one of the most prodigious young percussionists Inverclyde-based drumming teacher Lesley McLaren knows.

Earlier this year, she delivered an accomplished solo drumming performances for the judges at the prestigious Inverclyde Music Festival and Youtube videos of her drumming performances have drawn high praise from around the world.

Yet astonishingly, despite the pair developing a remarkably fruitful teacher and pupil understanding, Grace has never uttered a word to her instructor, who runs music group Hit Squad in Gourock and plays drums in Clare Grogan’s Altered Images.

“She’s just like any other wee girl,” said Lesley, 38. “She won’t speak, but strangely it’s not a problem. Initially I was worrying about how I was going to deliver lessons the further we went but you can read Grace’s face really well and she’s no shrinking violet. I know when she’s not happy about something or if she doesn’t understand. The only time I hear her voice is when she laughs or sneezes.”

Grace began drumming lessons working with songs that she loved by artists like Teenage Fanclub, The Clash, Florence and The Machine and Gruff Rhys.

Lesley said: “I teach kids songs they like, because I don’t want lessons to be dry for them. Fortunately her mum and dad have great music taste and that has rubbed off on Grace.”

Finding expression through music has not only given Grace an outlet for personal expression, but has had other benefits, too.

“I noticed a change in her confidence in the time I’ve known her,” said Lesley. “Even though she doesn’t speak to me, she seems much more outgoing. I’ve seen a video of Grace taking an African drumming class at school, leading the group, and being really very patient with them. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“They do say drums are the oldest form of communication. I feel really privileged that I can pass my skills on, be useful in some way and give pleasure to other people.

“It’s not about making anyone a rock star - although I think Grace might be anyway.”

Grace’s middle sister Eva has also been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and also plays the drums, with dad Marc jokingly dubbing Grace, Eva and youngest daughter Nora “The Tedeschettes”.

And last week the oldest Tedeschette stunned her family and teachers by reading a poem - Roots and Wings by Denis Waitley - aloud at school.

“We were at work and missed it,” said Marc. “We still can’t believe she did it.”

But there are no certainties.

Louise said: “We don’t know what the future holds, whether she’ll talk to more adults as she grows. We’re hoping in some way this might help raise awareness among other people going through the same."

Proud father Marc added: “Watching her progress, and then seeing the reactions online has been unbelievable.”

“She’s just our wee Grace. Some people think it’s a shame, as if she’s broken in some way. But she’s not. This is who she is, and this is what she does.

“She maybe doesn’t see things the same way as a lot of other people but I wouldn’t have her any other way.”

What is Selective Mutism?

Considered an anxiety disorder, SM is typified by a person who is capable of speech but who does not speak in certain situations. The condition is thought to affect 0.8% of the population. Many soldiers in the First World War who suffered from shell-shock - PTSD - were noticed to have selective mutism. Those with the disorder are fully aware of what is being said to them by others. In some extreme cases, people with SM find the condition progresses until they no longer speak to anyone. Many people with the condition have above average intelligence, a well developed sense of empathy and an affinity for artistic and creative expression

Asperger Syndrome Fact-file

Aspergers is a developmental condition and part of the autism spectrum, in which individuals experience difficulties in social interaction and communication. Repeated behaviours and repetitive interests are also often seen in people with AS. The condition begins in childhood, and in some cases the condition has been known to improve as the child develops, but there is no cure. Many people with AS exhibit excellent auditory perception.