Social Comfort Precedes Communication. Before an individual with Selective Mutism can communicate, he or she must have a certain amount of comfort and familiarity. Pushing the child/teen to communication before he or she is comfortable will cause increased anxiety and avoidance.
- Prepare pre-planned activities for your child to do with his/her friend. This gives your child a task to focus on rather than the attention of getting him/her to speak.
- Avoid prompting to the next level of communication until you see that the child is feeling comfortable.
- Apply the Verbal Intermediary® strategy for an older child who is aware of his or her mutism and working with set strategies and goals.
- Ask Choice, Direct, and Yes or No questions. Use the “tell me” approach to encourage a younger child to progress across the Social Communication Bridge®.
- Allow for warm-up time and remember that children can sense expectation. If they feel you are waiting for them to speak to their friend as soon as they arrive, this will only cause more anxiety.
Remember: It’s not about focusing on talking, it is about building comfort and implementing communication strategies (based on your clinician’s recommendations and your child’s baseline level for social communication) to help the child progress across the Social Communication Bridge® into speech.
The following tips are based on a child’s/teen’s unique Stage of Social Communication. Understanding where your child is on the Social Communication Bridge® is critical when setting the stage for progression of communication to the next level.
- Nonverbal Communication Stage: Parents of children in Stage 1 can prompt the exchange of communication via Handover/Takeover™ or pointing, gesturing. For the child/teen who has relatively secure nonverbal skills, parents can prompt via the Verbal intermediary® Tell Me approach.
- Transitional Communication Stage (“The Missing Link”): Parents of children in Stage 2 can use a tape recorder or play The Sound Game to boost to the next level of communication.
- Verbal Stage but needing activities to secure skills: Play board games (reading card games) such as Battle Ship, Guess Who, Guess Where, Scrabble (sounding out and reading words), card games (Go Fish) are useful.
To effectively overcome Selective Mutism and all anxieties, an individual needs to be involved in a treatment program, such as those rooted in evidenced-based Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®), like Individualized Intensives and CommuniCamp. Developed by Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, this holistic or “whole-person” treatment approach is designed to reduce anxiety, build self-esteem, increase social comfort and communication in all settings.
As a physician, Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum (“Dr. E”) views SM as a social communication anxiety where mutism is merely a symptom. The key to an effective treatment plan is understanding factors into the development and maintenance of SM as well as understanding a child’s baseline level of social communication on the Social Communication Bridge©. Then, working as a team, the treatment professional, parents, and school staff members help the child build coping skills to combat anxious feelings and to progress across the Social Communication Bridge®.