New Year, New Approach! Easy-to-follow Resolutions List.

Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum’s Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®) approach to the treatment of Selective Mutism has been around for 20+ years. While it may not exactly be a “new” approach, it could be for you and your child/teen!

While trying to survive the cleanup of the holidays and planning for New Year’s parties/gatherings, we’re also supposed to be devising goals for ourselves to accomplish in 2020. Well, we’ve done the work for you and created your New Year’s Resolutions list so that your child/teen can overcome Selective Mutism, social anxiety, extreme shyness and/or related challenges this coming year! It is possible when you follow these guidelines.

  1. No expectations/no pressure for speech. Yes, you read that correctly! Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum’s globally successful, evidence-based treatment program, Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®), is about building comfort, confidence, feeling empowered, and doing strategies that lead to progression into verbal, social speech. Yes, speaking comfortably in social settings is the ultimate goal but your priority should be for your child to feel empowered and develop coping skills and learn key strategies to progress into speech. Research conducted by SMRI to study the efficacy of S-CAT® indicates that for children who have been pressured to speak by parents/therapists for months or perhaps years, mutism not only persists but is negatively reinforced. Emphasis should therefore be on understanding the child and acknowledging his/her anxiety. Introducing him/her to social environments in subtle and non-threatening ways is an excellent way to help the child feel more comfortable. For example, if your child can speak to you but not teachers/classmates, take your child into school when few people are around so the child can speak in that setting. Eventually, bring a friend or two to school and allow the children to play when other classmates are not present. Small groups with only a small number of children are helpful, as well as allowing parents to spend time with the child within the class. After the child is speaking quite normally in the setting, the teacher, and then the students are gradually introduced into the group setting. Positive reinforcement for verbalization should be introduced when, and only when, anxiety is lowered, and the child feels comfortable and is obviously ready for some subtle encouragement.
  2. Transfer control to my child. Children with SM need to understand, feel in control, and have choice in their treatment (age dependent). Encourage journaling and bringing awareness to feelings. Have your child acknowledge his/her feelings about communication and use charts to help develop social comfort and progress into speech. Silent goals (environmental changes) and active goals (child-directed goals and purposeful games—based on age—based on choice and control) are some of the tools used within Dr. E’s S-CAT® Program to give control back to the child.
  3. Educate school staff and friends/family. Miseducation about SM is a contributing factor to why a person’s SM persists. A team approach is crucial to a child’s opportunity to overcome Selective Mutism. You must be your child’s best advocate in school and in his/her daily life. Education should focus on:
    1. Conceptualization of child’s Selective Mutism (E.g. “Selective Mutism is so much more than just not talking.” Why did he/she develop it? When/where does he/she struggle?)
    2. S-CAT® philosophies and Golden Rules
    3. Child’s position on the Social Communication Bridge®
    4. Consistent communication with treating professional about the child’s gains and challenges and adapting the treatment plan (important for generalization and maintenance of skills and progress).
    5. Distributing this resource guide to all friends/family/school staff who interact with your child daily and when visiting unfamiliar places
    6. Downloading and completing the About My Child worksheet
    7. Watching and sharing What is Selective Mutism & How Do We Treat It?
    8. Following and engaging with the SMart Center’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts which share tools, tips, research, and ideas on how to help a child progress into speech
    9. Schedule a school consultation with a SMart Center Clinician.
  4. Involve my child in every social communication interaction and use every opportunity to practice social communication. The give-and-take of communication (consistent and frequent question-asking) to an individual with Selective Mutism is not only needed, but a mandatory component of Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®). If questions are not asked to the individual, he or she cannot begin to make progress and become a confident, social communicator. Therefore, questions need to be asked to give him/her the chance to respond. This requires parents and teachers to step back and encourage their child or student to begin engaging with others and to communicate at the communication level they can accomplish. The ongoing goal is for the person with Selective Mutism to transition across the Social Communication Bridge® starting from their baseline stage in any given setting.  You know your child can and does speak when comfortable. When relatives, friends, and/or peers ask questions of your child with SM, your child is capable of a response. How he/she does so is dependent upon his or her baseline stage of social communication on the Social Communication Bridge™. Therefore, the child/teen can and should participate in all question/answer opportunities. It is necessary for the individual with Selective Mutism to have the opportunity to participate in all social communication experiences. Learn how to do this at CommuniCamp™!
  5. Apply for CommuniCamp™ Intensive Group Treatment & Parent Training Program in 2020. Children/teens between the ages of 3-17 can and do make progress with the support and guidance of this program. The CommuniCamp™ Mission is two-fold: 1) treatment in peer-groups in a school for children and teens and 2) parent education, training, and support seminars. Intensive Group Treatment: Over the course of a three-day weekend (5 hours/day, 15 hours total), our professionally trained counselors, under the direction of our lead clinicians, work directly with two-to-three campers on social comfort and confidence to instill social confidence, increase communication, and facilitate learning of coping skills using S-CAT® based strategies using each camper’s individual baseline for social communication. Through these strategies and by removing the expectation for speech and respecting each camper’s baseline, our campers see and hear themselves communicating confidently in a peer-group school setting which translates to their school environment when they get home. Parent Training, Education, and Support Seminars: While campers undergo treatment, we simultaneously provide 15 hours of intensive parent education, training, and breakout support sessions so parents can immerse themselves in the world of Selective Mutism and learn strategies, ask questions, share stories, receive support, and feel confident implementing the goals, strategies, and interventions the entire family learned at camp, at home. Families leave with actionable goals for the child (and parents!) and a step-by-plan for what to do! Additionally, relevant and supplemental webinars, handouts, letters to school staff, insurance-coded receipts, diagnosis letters, and recommendations for next steps are provided to the family immediately following the final day of the program. Learn more and apply here:
  6. DO THE WORK! Research on S-CAT®, conducted by SMRI, showed that the families with the quickest results and long-lasting success, were dedicated to doing the work laid out for them by their SMart Center clinician in their child’s treatment plan. The five keys to helping your child/teen overcoming SM, based on research, involve:
    1. A team approach:
      1. parent education (adjusting parenting styles, parenting goals)
      2. teacher education (accommodations/Interventions, charting/tracking)
    2. Child gaining inner control and expressing feelings
    3. “Ritualistic” games, goals, and strategy charts
    4. Monthly follow-up consultations in office or via web-conferencing with family
    5. Bimonthly consultations with school team and SMart Center clinician

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 that contribute to the development and maintenance of SM as well as understanding a child’s baseline stage 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©.