Our Shining Stars Speak Out
“Don’t be scared. It’s me, Allison. I’ve been scared like that too. I know what it’s like. I was just like you,” I said to my future preschooler.
Allison was in preschool when she was diagnosed with Selective Mutism. Today, 15 years later, she is applying to college. Here is an excerpt from Allison’s college essay as she recalls her journey to overcome Selective Mutism:
It’s a typical preschool day. I am hiding under the loft in my classroom as usual. Ethan and Jack are heading my way. I’m so excited. Maybe someone finally wants to play with me. They brought tools. “Wait, stop, what are you doing?” They’re trying to stick their tools in my mouth. I hate it. I want them to stop. I squeeze my teeth shut. The tears are rolling down. They’re looking for my voice. Someone please help me! It’s there, I promise! It just won’t come out…
I remember long drives to see Dr. E [at the SMart Center]. I loved those long drives. Mom drove every time. Then we had breakfast in Philadelphia, and then I get to play with Dr. E. I went from becoming completely blank and paralyzed when asked a question to becoming frustrated. I wanted to talk. I was going to talk. I was finally able to make one friend, Jenna. I would tell Jenna what I needed in school and she would tell the teacher. Finally, I was able to say “here” when my name was called in attendance. I could finally do what the other kids could do. ‘I know what it’s like. I have been on the other side. It’s me, Allison. Don’t be scared.’ I strongly believe that your childhood shapes your future…The internal battle I faced with Selective Mutism was not an easy one, but I succeeded, and I hope to help others do the same. Overcoming my mutism has allowed me to express myself and show my true colors to the world around me. Just as I have overcome my mutism, I will overcome whatever else life throws my way. I will face my problems head on and prevail, because I am Allison Levin and I am no longer afraid.”
“Since starting the S-CAT® Program at the SMart Center, Tom is chatty with his grandparents, baseball coach, and certain peers. I have had many teachers approach me this fall and remark on Tom’s progress. He has been described as: having many friends he interacts with at school, “chatty”, taking a lead during Grandparent day, taking a lead role in doing a group presentation to his class. Even family friends have commented what a huge change they have seen in him! S-CAT® is life-changing and holds us all accountable.
We consult with the SMart Center once every three months and Tom is making huge progress in ALL areas of his life. I have seen big improvements even in social settings with his peers. He rarely shows anxiety when we are out in public, and he has a group of kids that he hangs-out with at school with whom Tom is beginning to have easy/natural conversations. I have observed this in both one-on-one situations and in group settings (such as trap practice). In alignment with his S-CAT® treatment plan, we continue to prepare and practice for any new situation Tom may encounter. Best example: Tom has started interviewing for jobs. We have practiced such things as how to approach a store manager, answers to questions that might be asked.
Update: Tom secured a job at McDonald’s and is doing well!”
Harper and her family joined the SMart Center through our Individual Intensive Program and attend follow-up consultations every 4-5 weeks. After just five visits, Harper’s mom and dad shared the following, “Since starting treatment at the SMart Center, situations that used to be very difficult are now ‘doable’. For example, we had a family picnic the other week and she did great. She is significantly more communicative and much less anxious. She’s a much happier child and has steadily become more and more confident. She continues to push herself to engage in new situations and step outside of her comfort zone. We couldn’t be happier with her progress. It’s been a game changer for our family. Harper is truly a new child since starting S-CAT® treatment with Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum SMart Center.”
Not only is Harper a Shining Star, but her parents are, too! Dr. E says, “Harper made significant progress quickly because her parents are amazing implementers. They took our recommendations and ran with it!” She added, “I’m so proud of Harper, who is truly a shining star, but mom and dad, too!”
(Harper’s mom and dad are thrilled to feature Harper as a SMart Center Shining Star but they requested we do not use her photo. The image shown is for illustrative purposes only.)
Words cannot begin to express the gratitude my family has for the SMart Center. Two years ago my identical twin daughters started pre-school and went completely mute while at school. They showed very little affect and would stand huddled together in a corner. I have been a special educator for 15 years, so I mistakenly thought I would be able to help my daughters find their voices again. After 4 months of in-home therapy with a child psychologist and almost no progress, we decided to look for other avenues to help our daughters.
That is when we found the SMart Center and our lives changed! We started therapy with the amazing Jennifer Brittingham, M.A. and within a month, there were drastic changes with our girls. After 4 months of incredible support from Miss Jennifer and following the comprehensive S-CAT® program, my daughters began talking at school. I walked into my daughters’ class to pick them up and the teacher was crying and started shaking her head yes. I instantly knew my brave girls had found their voices. We continued using Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum’s S-CAT® program and our daughters continued to blossom. Now our daughters are in first grade and they opened their Spring Show with the only speaking parts in the show! They stood in front of 300 people and spoke in big, strong, glorious voices! I have never been happier or prouder in my life. Thank you, SMart Center. Thank you for guiding us on this journey and helping us find so much success.
“The ambiance and atmosphere at the SMart Center is fabulous and the compassion they have for these kids struggling with SM is unbelievable… we can officially say our Jaeda is non-stop talking and tattle-tailing on her sisters. It’s a huge relief to hear her and see her in her comfort zone talking away. We can’t thank the SMart Center in helping us through this process. We have had a few parents from around the U.S. call us to give them feedback and we have nothing but great things to say. YES, it does work! Lots of patience, and consistency is key. She definitely is our Shining Star!”
– Jaeda’s mom, Aimee (CommuniCamper and member of our SMart Center Family)
If you’d like to speak to Jaeda’s mom about their experience with the SMart Center’s Treatment Program, send an email to CommuniCamp@SelectiveMutismCenter.org and we’ll be happy to share her contact information. She, among many of our family members, has offered to be a reference for our center.
“In my head, I’ve been trying to craft the perfect THANK YOU letter to you guys, but every time I think of what to say, our daughter has another incredible progress leap, and my letter has to be adjusted. I do plan on writing Dr. E a full update, but until then, I just can’t wait any longer to say: THANK YOU. We were so sad that [CommuniCamp] was over, but what we have discovered since we’ve been back…is that camp is NOT over. Our 5-year old has taken everything you guys gave her and is independently applying it to her daily life. It is taking all my strength not to cry every time I witness her achieving one more thing that she couldn’t do a week ago.
Because we’ve been working with the SMart Center, I worried this would be repetitive for us. It was anything but. At the least it was a healthy refresh, but at the most, it was an incredible opportunity to go deeper, and to internalize your guidance. For my daughter, camp is now in her heart. She knows for a fact that she is ‘not the only one.’ She knows for a fact that there are things she can do to help herself. She knows for a fact that Dr. E and her counselors were there to help her. She knows for a fact that she can do what she sets her mind to. She now has proof and evidence to support all of this. I don’t believe she knew any of those things for a fact a week ago.
What an exceptional team of LOVING, SMART, SHARP, INTUITIVE, SUPPORTIVE professionals we met at CommuniCamp. THANK YOU.” -Kayla’s mom (February 2018 CommuniCamper and a member of our SMart Center Family)
If you’d like to speak to Kayla’s mom about their experience with the SMart Center’s CommuniCamp Program, send an email to CommuniCamp@SelectiveMutismCenter.org and we’ll be happy to share her contact information. She, among many of our family members, has offered to be a reference for our treatment programs.
“We have had tremendous progress since camp!! We went to camp 100% non-verbal with anyone beyond mom and her dad, for over a year. Between switching to a therapist who specializes in SM and attending CommuniCamp in August 2017 we have a totally different child 6 months later and it is unreal. We never thought that we’d ever see this day. She is speaking to ALL of her family members again, so many friends we can’t even count, her teachers, and even strangers at the store and ordering her own food! CommuniCamp was what kicked it into gear for us for her. We left camp with an understanding that communication can happen in many different ways. She came back still not speaking to anyone beyond mom and dad, but she was much more comfortable communicating in a way that was comfortable for her and she started to make connections to the same things from camp that we were trying to implement from her local therapist. Someone would ask her a question and rather than freezing up, she would turn and use mom or dad as a verbal intermediary all on her own. Prior to that we would have to prompt her and she would rarely do it. It just blew up from there, kind of like popcorn…it started and just keeps popping! We NEVER thought we would be where we are today. The months leading up to camp was a dark time because we just didn’t know how we were ever going to overcome this and felt helpless. We still have lots of work to do and this is not over, but the progress thus far has been surreal and we cannot believe it!” -Angie (Kaylee’s Mom and Summer 2017 CommuniCamper)
If you’d like to speak to Kayee’s mom about their experience with the SMart Center’s CommuniCamp Program, send an email to CommuniCamp@SelectiveMutismCenter.org and we’ll be happy to share her contact information. She, among many of our family members, has offered to be a reference for our treatment programs.
NO TURNING BACK: CHLOE’S STORY
The weight is great. The feeling of expectation from all to talk like everyone else. The pressure debilitating. Unable to speak. The fear of letting down those around me is always on the forefront of my thoughts. Aware, very aware, that there is something very different in the way I communicate with others besides my family. It’s like being on a stage with hundreds of people staring at you. The fright immense. Pressure builds. I want to speak so badly, but I can’t. How will I ever? I just can’t. Why? Why am I so different? Tears flow because once again I know that I have let everyone down. I’m a failure. People ask me why I won’t speak? I reply with a hollow glare. I want to tell them I’m sorry, that inside I’m just like them. I want to scream “I have words, I have words!” Instead, I just look at them. They look at me and walk away. Will I ever? No, it’s too hard.
My mom & dad explained to me that I am smart and beautiful and that I can do anything through Christ that gives me strength. They explained that sometimes we need to get help in order to get over obstacles in our lives and that I shouldn’t be ashamed.
My mom & dad had found a camp in Philadelphia that helps kids like me that can’t get their words out. It’s called CommuniCamp. When they first told me about it, I was scared. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else in failing to talk. They told me everyday that I could do this! I began to become excited about it. I guess it was because I knew that there would be other kids at this camp just like me. My mom told me that we would learn some different ways to help me communicate with others. I was ready. I didn’t want to be in isolation anymore. I didn’t want to feel locked up in my own my own head. I wanted to break free. I really did want to talk. I just didn’t know how.
The day came for camp. I was nervous, but excited all at the same time. I was very nervous to walk through the doors at the Smart Center, but I did it and I saw so many kids there. We didn’t speak to each other at first. We would just occasionally stare at each other. However, there was a connection instantly. We knew that the other knew what we each were going through. We understood each other. There were no questions like “why don’t you speak?” We understood each other. The counselors were all so nice. They talked to us normally. They respected each of us. I felt normal. That was not a feeling I usually felt. The counselors and Dr. E played some games with us and spoke to us about our feelings. I knew they really cared. Before I knew it, I was talking to some of the other girls. Instant friendship. Instant bonding. I entered another arena that I had never walked in before, I began to whisper to the counselors too. I answered questions quietly, but I did it with my voice and not a blank stare. What was happening? Why did I feel so comfortable here? Wait a minute…I feel comfortable and I am beginning to speak to these people. There must be something to this place, to these people? I loved camp.
My mom & dad helped me to do the things I learned at camp. We began to do these things everyday at home, at restaurant’s, at stores. I just came to realize that we would be doing these things until I was once again comfortable enough in one of those places to use my voice. I knew school was going to start soon. The thought of speaking to my teachers was very scary. But, my mom & dad said they were going to help me through it. My mom told me that we would meet with each person at school and play our little game we made up so that I could cross over the bridge one by one with everyone there. And I did. I crossed over the bridge into verbal with every teacher, every student and even with my principals. I am ordering my own food now. I have crossed over the bridge with family friends that I have never spoken to before.
I don’t ask Why anymore, because I know why. We all have a story and things we struggle with. Mine just so happened to be getting my words out. I want to help others know that they are not alone and they don’t need to stay stuck and feel like they are isolated from everyone else. They can do it just like I did!
The rest is history. I have crossed over that bridge that once felt impossible to get across. It took people believing in me, like my family and Dr. E and her staff. Getting your feet to move across the bridge is the hardest part. But once you are moving, you don’t want to stop until you are to the other side. I didn’t believe the day would come that I could say “I’m not scared to talk any more!” But, that day has come. I overcame Selective Mutism!
-Chloe Carney & Sara Carney
Chloe and her family attended The SMart Center’s CommuniCamp™ intensive group treatment program in the summer of 2017. Click here to learn more about the program and apply today!
A video testimonial and message from Lucas’s mom, Maureen:
“Lucas first came to the Smart Center when he was three years old. He was completely mute in his school environment and with people outside his immediately family. After being given the specific SCAT strategies to implement, we worked very hard to incorporate them into our daily routine and began to see progress quite quickly. We played games given to us by Dr. E. and used a sticker chart with rewards to keep him motivated. Lucas was fearful of a lot situations, so we incorporated a scary chart into our daily routine that helped him identify and discuss how scary a situation felt. This strategy really helped him feel more in control of his feelings. Every little success built his confidence and each year he improved. Now at the age of 6, he is verbal in all settings.”
Maureen created a journal for children, My Book of Brave: A Journal for Taking Control of Scary Feelings and Fears, available on Amazon!
Here is Lucas speaking to a crowd of over 100 people during his first grade “When I Grow Up” show:”
“Had to share this video. It brings me to tears hearing him talk in a NORMAL voice and so freely in circle time in front of 27 OTHER KIDS! Something I could not even imagine possible 6 months ago. Thank you SO MUCH for our time at the SMart Center. It has been life changing for Grayson as well as Mike and I. Thank you again for helping us help Grayson find his voice.” -Grayson’s Mom
“One of the things we were most grateful for was the strategies us as parents came away with from our visit. Now, 6 months later, Grayson is significantly better and is using his voice in situations he never would have before. It’s so relieving to have been taught these tactics since prior to our consult we as parents felt hopeless. SMart Center really has been life changing for us as parents and Grayson. Thank you!!!!”
Note below where he is proudly telling DR E about the goals he has accomplished on his goal chart!! As indicated in the video, Matthew also has a great grasp on his feelings (a necessary step in building long term coping skills).
We are super proud of Matthew (and parents!)…as well as his teachers for helping to implement the necessary strategies in school.
“What a very proud moment today! This is a glimpse of one of many performances today. What joy this brought me today and many tears. The simple pleasure of life….talking, smiling, singing, which to most are too often taken for granted. What a tremendous difference a year has made!! Many thanks from our hearts!”!
Mary, a 17 year old at the time, started treatment in the S-CAT® Program in July 2016 and was seen monthly for Selective Mutism and social anxiety disorder.
A message from Mary’s mother about her progress within 8 short visits to the SMart Center:
“We are very happy with the progress and think it has made a huge difference in Matthews life. He is open about talking about his fears of talking with others. He is willing to work on them. He is also learning to have more confidence in himself.”
The video below was taken during Matthews second follow up visit. He went from not engaging and being completely mute with unfamiliar individuals, teachers, and the like, to transitioning into verbal using a “whisper buddy.” The video below, although quiet, shows Matthew ‘using his voice’ to answer Dr. Shipon-Blum’s questions!
A message from Faith’s father:
We started the program with Dr. E. in November and since then Faith has really thrived. She is now reading to other kids in her classroom. She will respond to questions asked by her teacher on a limited basis and has been able to have full conversations with her guidance counselor. We have had several play dates with children from school at our house and during those play dates Faith was talking, laughing, screaming, playing. This is such an amazing turn around in such a short period of time.
A message from Sarah’s mother after completing just four appointments in our research study: During the course of her treatment, Sarah has really come out of her shell and is speaking to so many people in so many settings. She is a changed child. I have never seen her so happy, exuberant and confident, and it really came about because she can now communicate easily with friends, families, teachers, classmates and even total strangers. Thank you again for all that Dr. E and SMRI have done!
Before the treatment it was really hard to communicate with people and to feel accepted into groups. When my teachers asked me to talk I just stared at everyone. Everyone stared at me waiting for me to speak. After a minute or so the teacher skipped me and went on. Sometimes I felt so embarrassed that I wanted to cry, but I didnt. I did get butterflies in my stomach a lot, and sometimes I felt nauseous. Time passed and I just felt frustrated. I would be talking with my close friend and another student that I didnt talk to would show up and wanted to chat. I couldnt keep a conversation because I wouldnt talk. Sometimes the friend I talked to went away with the friend I didnt talk to, and that made me feel sad. When kids asked me why dont you talk? my friends had to say she doesnt talk because she is shy and it was hard to hear that every single day. I wasnt shy! I just couldnt use my voice!
In restaurants it wasnt too hard, just a little bit. My parents or my grandparents had to order my food. When I was with my aunt and uncle or my cousins thats when it got hard because my brother had to order for me and hes just a year older than me.
What helped me the most with the treatment was the support I got from my family (extended family and friends included). My family was always supporting me every time I improved they would tell me good job or awesome. I got star stickers on a chart every time I did a goal that helped me improve. That helped a lot. I got very happy when everyone got excited because I was one step closer to talking.
Talking in school is the thing I feel most proud about. Since I started a new school for 7th grade I talk to everybody and its a great feeling. Nobody knows. Only 2 or 3 of my elementary school teachers that are also at this new school and the director (that was also in the other school) and the principal. But its ok because they never bring it up. Some of my friends from the other school moved to the new school with me but they dont care. I just talk to them and they never ask. Talking in school is awesome.
Now I can do a lot of things that I couldnt do in the past. For example, in school no one knows. Not even one of my best friends, so Im just a normal student. In restaurants its so much easier I can order. Im fine and Im not scared anymore. I used to not talk to my aunts, uncles, and my cousins, but now they never mention it. I have a lot of fun hanging out with them. I am really proud of myself.
I would tell kids that conquering this fear can change your whole life. You finally say to yourself I feel normal. You could just feel the best that youve ever felt in your life. Its an awesome feeling.
A MESSAGE FROM THAIS’ MOTHER:
Progress is as unique as every child is, so patience, and taking every single step as a major accomplishment, no matter how small, is paramount. I guess that our ability as a family to focus on the moment rather than focusing on the big picture (her finding her voice) was crucial too. We are blessed also to have an extended family and a group of close friends that were always presence, help, and a shoulder to cry on and would do anything for our daughter...
As a family, we chose to all be on board for her, even our 13 year old boy. The road can become rough on occasions, but this IS POSSIBLE. The most important basic thing is not giving up, ever. My daughter thinks the world is a very cool place to be right now.
As a participant in this past year’s research study, Liam made incredible progress in just three months of treatment! With the help of his family, Dr. E., and lots of hard work on Liam’s part, he progressed into verbal in all settings. In fact, at the conclusion of the treatment study, he went from being nonverbal in the school setting to being described as “chatty” by his mother and teacher!
Colin and his family have been a wonderful part of the SMart Center family. Here’s what his parents had to say about S-CAT(c).
Dr. Es S-CAT approach always provides a way to move Colin forward. It seems when he gets stuck with one technique, she finds another and we find many ways to adapt each technique to each individual setting. This has given him such control over his therapy and therefore much more interest on his part to participate. The S-CAT treatment has been key in taking Colins therapy from the treatment room to the real world. This is exactly what we were unable to do in prior treatments.
Parents Speak Out
Shea had suffered with Selective Mutism for years without treatment success until now. Shea did amazing! He progressed from primarily non-communicative to speaking during his visit. So proud of Shea and his family for doing their goals and working hard! Success!