A GIRL who struggles to speak miraculously found her voice after meeting a sloth.

Nine-year-old Willow Parkhouse has a form of mutism and rarely utters a word.

But when she got up close and personal with a sloth at Drusillas zoo she said to her mother: “It’s the best thing I have ever done.”

Tina Parkhouse said her daughter was so excited afterwards she could not stop talking.

Tina said: “Willow had a massive smile and was talking for ages about her experience. I was quite emotional to see how happy and chatty it made her.

“Willow has selective mutism and also dyscalculia, which means she finds it difficult to process the time and speed of things.

“She is therefore slower at a lot of things, but this is why she has a massive love for sloths.”

Willow met the arboreal mammals at Drusillas near Alfriston last week.

The zoo’s resident sloths Sophocles and Curly descended from their perches to eat fruit from her hand.

All the while, Willow remained silent.

It was only afterwards that she confided her joy to her mother.

Head keeper Sophie Leadbitter said: “We are really blown away by Tina and Willow’s lovely reaction to the sloth encounter. Sophocles and Curly were thrilled to see Willow and came all the way down from their sleeping nook to say hello.

“It was really special. They were such a nice family, and I think we all got a bit emotional hearing Tina’s words.”

Selective mutism is a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, such as with classmates at school or to relatives they rarely see.

It usually starts during childhood and, left untreated, can continue into adulthood.

The NHS says someone with selective mutism does not choose to remain silent – they are physically unable to speak.

Tina, who was visiting Sussex from her home in Devon, said: “Willow has always had a big place in her heart for sloths. We just want to say thank you to zookeeper Peter Holmes and all the staff at Drusillas for making this wonderful moment happen.

“It really made Willow’s dream come true and we will always cherish the memories of her special day.”