When teachers and peers ask questions of your loved one with Selective Mutism, their ability to respond is dependent upon their baseline level of social communication on the Social Communication Bridge®. When questioned, the individual with SM should participate in all question/answer opportunities.
Individuals in this stage on The Social Communication Bridge® are not comfortable, tend to avoid, and remain mute around the relative.
What to do?
- Prompt or stimulate nonverbal communication (e.g., nodding, gesturing, pointing).
- Encourage social engagement via Frontline™ interaction. Teachers/peers should actively involve the person with SM in the social encounter by subtly, yet purposely, step back and encourage to stand front and center in the interaction.
Stage 1 to Stage 2
Individuals in this stage are becoming comfortable and may quietly speak around the teacher or peer but not directly to them.
What to do?
- Ask the person with SM questions! If questions are not asked, he or she cannot begin to make progress and become a confident social communicator. Therefore, questions need to be asked to allow for responding.
- Parent/sibling/comfortable friend should re-ask the teacher’s question and prompt the person with SM to “tell me”. In doing so, the parent/sibling/friend acts as a Verbal Intermediary®. After the individual responds to their parent/sibling/friend in front of the teacher, the parent/sibling/friend repeats the answer if the teacher did not hear. As the person with SM gets more comfortable with this process, he/she will become louder. The use of the Verbal Intermediary® is a transitional strategy that helps the individual begin to use his/her voice in the presence of other people in direct response to their questions.
Although the Verbal intermediary® can be used to help bridge into speech, those with SM are often phobic to speech and hence have developed a secondary speech phobia. Utilizing the traditional strategy of shaping sounds into words often works well for these individuals.
Stage 2 to Stage 3
Have the child or teen with Selective Mutism read to the teacher or peer from a script (low volume speech with minimal eye contact should be accepted)
For more tips and strategies, check out a number of our school-based resources like The Selective Mutism Summer Vacation and Back-to-School Guide available in our SMart Mart. An e-book version is also available here.
To effectively overcome Selective Mutism and all anxieties, an individual needs to be involved in a treatment program, such as the evidenced-based Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®). 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. Shipon-Blum views Selective Mutism 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 person’s baseline level of social communication. Then, working as a team, the treatment professional, parents and family, and school staff members help the individual build coping skills to combat anxious feelings and to progress across the Social Communication Bridge©.