What is selective mutism?
Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that can cause children to freeze up and be unable to speak in certain settings (ex: school) even when their speech is normal in other, more familiar settings (ex: home).
Selective mutism is frequently accompanied by social anxiety, which means a general feeling of anxiety related to social situations.
When left untreated, children are likely to develop avoidance habits so that they won't need to speak up. Unfortunately the avoidance behavior can get continually reinforced over time, when others assume they will not speak and begin to speak for them. It can get harder to break out of this cycle when the child becomes concerned that beginning to speak may attract undue attention, which they have been trying so hard to avoid. For these reasons, early intervention is highly recommended.
How do you treat selective mutism?
Standard play therapy or talk therapy are generally NOT the interventions of choice for selective mutism. Even if the child succeeds in speaking to a therapist in their office, this will likely not carry over into other settings where speech is more difficult for them.
We use a specific, evidence-based, behavioral approach (PCIT-SM, developed by Dr. Steven Kurtz) which includes extensive parent and teacher training. The child is prompted and encouraged to speak through gradual exposure exercises. The prompts are presented in a way that sets the child up for success with incremental small goals. We use generous praise and rewards to encourage brave speech. As the child progresses, we raise the challenge level of the daily and weekly speaking goals.
Sessions may consist of some or all of the following:
1. Parent training followed by parent/child sessions, for parents to practice the intervention skills in real time.
2. Zoom training to school staff and other involved professionals.
3. In school therapy sessions for child exposures as well as to provide in person coaching for teachers (based on location and availability).
4. Continued coaching follow-up support for parents and school staff.
5. Intensive group and "camp" programs for kids to practice their speaking goals in a group (based on availability).
Introducing Mighty Kids Miami, an intensive therapy camp for kids with selective mutism.
In addition to the tremendous benefits a selective mutism camp can offer, any form of therapeutic support can be incredibly beneficial during the summer months.
A new school year can be wonderful opportunity for a fresh start. The key is for parents and new teachers (or summer counselors) to receive training BEFORE the child's first day in a new place, so the child can be can encouraged to speak from the very beginning using specific methods.
If you are seeking help for transitioning your child into a new school year, we suggest you begin at least a few weeks before school begins. This allows time for some parent and teacher training, the child adjusting to speaking to the therapist, as well as a fade-in session with teachers, during which the child can experience success in speaking to their new teachers BEFORE the first day of school. Please keep in mind we will have limited availability during the weeks of camp in August so please call as early as you can to reserve a time!
We look forward to working together with you to set your child up for success!