Joshua’s Gradual and Manageable Steps—Inspired by SMart Center Strategies—Led Him to Overcome Selective Mutism!
When Joshua* was around three or four years old, his family noticed he was mute everywhere besides with family members and several close family friends. This included on the phone, at school, while shopping, at friends’ houses, etc.
Joshua recalls his experience, “I didn’t like talking to people I didn’t know because I was afraid of unfamiliar situations. I didn’t know what would happen if I talked to someone, so I avoided it. I felt alone in many situations because I felt disconnected from others—I wanted to be able to talk to people, but I didn’t know how.”
When searching for help, his mother found it difficult to get an assessment of the issue and the source of the problem. “Joshua went to two sensory integration therapists, a speech language pathologist and a cognitive behavioral psychologist. Finally, once we determined it was most likely selective mutism, based on our own research, Joshua still wasn’t getting the treatment he needed. The psychologist he was seeing wasn’t trained in selective mutism and was basically approaching the issue as social anxiety and didn’t know how to treat the specific issues Joshua was facing. Joshua was being given steps to take out in the world but they weren’t doable steps for him, he wasn’t making much progress and was frustrated that there didn’t seem to be a solution that could help him. I decided to look into taking him for treatment further from home and, through research online, found the SMart Center. The SMart Center was different because, firstly, understanding the [individualized] issues someone with Selective Mutism faces, they could give Joshua suggestions and steps he was able to take immediately to start to improve. I think that another large factor for Joshua was finally finding people who understood what he was experiencing and told him there was a clear path to improvement. I always felt that was inspiring for him. Just knowing something can be done can be a big factor in someone believing and achieving it.”
When Joshua was about 16 years old, he and his family traveled to the SMart Center from Southern U.S. for a Two-Day Individualized Intensive Treatment Program and met with his SMart Center clinician, Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, for follow-up consultations via web-conferencing a few times per year.
Today Joshua is 18 and reports “I’m now able to talk comfortably to people I don’t know, from store employees to teachers to other students. I’ve been able to more easily make friends and act for myself when out and about. I’m so much more comfortable in everyday life knowing that I am capable of talking to anyone, and I feel so much more connected to the world. Having the confidence to talk freely to people has made me more comfortable going into new situations, even ones where the main objective is not to talk to someone. I’m still working on making friends and being totally comfortable speaking up in group settings, but all in all, the SMart Center has helped me become much more confident and happy!”
In his own words, the S-CAT® strategies that helped Joshua the most were:
- “Gradual and manageable steps (ex. I used small steps regarding talking in stores, restaurants, etc. to get better at talking in general: planning what to say to cashier, preparing answers to possible questions in advance, mom got clerk’s attention and directed to me so I could ask a question)
- Having a list of doable actions to take in stores, restaurants, etc. gave me confidence to take on interactions by myself, which inspired me to do more
- Keeping a list of goals met and assigning point values earned, especially for steps taken at school
- Taking on leadership positions at school and in community gave me an excuse to talk to people and a subject to talk about with them
- Repeated practice in unfamiliar situations helped me become more comfortable approaching other unfamiliar situations with confidence”
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
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©.