Someone just asked your son, daughter, or student a random question to engage him or her in conversation. What do you do when informal and unstructured questions are asked of them in certain situations?

  1. Example: Your child is at swim practice and someone nearby approaches him or her and asks his/her name.
  2. Example: Your child is at a restaurant and the server asks your son or daughter how old he/she is.

We want questions to be asked!  And, we want the child/teen to have opportunities to ask questions.  However, children and teenagers with Selective Mutism are often very anxious with the thought or sense of expectation for questions; they avoid/shadow parents or siblings/rely on friends to speak and communicate.

One of S-CAT®’s main components is focusing on the importance of helping those with Selective Mutism understand their feelings and become actively engaged in helping them prepare for these kinds of situations.

This can be done in a game/goal context. It is important that parents are educated on how to stimulate social engagement opportunities for their children:

The more the child is on the Frontline® and begins to engage via Handover/Takeover®, the more that others will ask questions. This is a good thing; however, the individual asking the questions may not be aware of the child’s/teen’s inability to verbalize. This is when parents, or others who the child/teen can speak to, prompt the child’s/teen’s response based on his or her comfort level and Stage on the Social Communication Bridge®.

The more prepared the child/teen is, the less processing he or she will have to do during an interaction. This will reduce the amount of anxiety he or she feels and allow for greater social communication. One way to prepare in advance for possible questions is to plan for questions that may be asked in different social environments.  Children and teens usually get asked the same questions over and over and over again!

The individual can develop his or her responses to these questions.  Their Stage on the Social Communication Bridge® will dictate his/her expected level of communication!

To formally complete this activity, questions and answers can be written down and then, which people asked which questions can be charted. To informally complete this activity, the child can play “Guess the Question™” and “Guess who asks the Question™” games. Please note, however, that prompting the child with a choice question is always fine!

Remember: Charts=Control and hence lowered anxiety!

Using charts and other reward systems to help the child/teen respond at the appropriate level is encouraged; however, for some, especially younger and/or more resistant children, a more passive approach with gentle prompting and opportunities will suffice until the individual has a greater grasp of his/her feelings and the treatment process.

The child/teen can also be guided to think about other questions that people may ask based on the setting and relationship (e.g., questions a counselor, swim instructor, or neighbor may ask).  By knowing the answers to the questions on the worksheet, the individual will be that much more prepared for the questions that are typically asked from setting to setting!

Then, based on the child/teen’s Stage of Social Communication®, he or she can be prepared to respond:

Stage 0-Stage 1:  Example: Frontline™ and Handover/Takeover™ and encouraging pointing, nodding or gesturing

Stage 1-Stage 2:  Example: Using parent or other individual as Verbal Intermediary, having answers pre-taped and played

Stage 2- Stage 3: Reading a script (low volume speech with minimal eye contact should be accepted)

To effectively overcome Selective Mutism and all anxieties, an individual needs to be involved in a treatment program, such as CommuniCamp™ Intensive Group Treatment and Individual Intensive Treatment which employ 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.