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Anxiety Disorders Center

Selective Mutism Service

An innovative program that helps children with SM overcome their symptoms.

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Children with selective mutism (SM) can be exceptionally talkative in the privacy of their homes but unable to speak at all in school and other social situations. Though these children might appear willful, they are actually overpoweringly self-conscious and experience it as an inability to speak. The disorder can prevent children from participating in class, asking for help when they need it, and even forming relationships with peers.

The Child Mind Institute’s Selective Mutism Service is an innovative program that helps children with SM overcome their symptoms using state of the art evidence-based behavioral interventions.

Diagnostic Evaluations

Before treatment begins we learn about your child’s history, development and symptoms through a diagnostic evaluation. Our evaluations are based on information collected from multiple sources including parents, teachers, previous therapists and pediatricians. We conduct live behavioral observations to best understand your child’s ease of talking, with and without a stranger present, as well as review video of your child talking at home. Beginning with a careful, detailed evaluation allows us to understand your child’s needs and provide tailored treatment recommendations.

Highlights of Our Treatment

  • Treatment uses specialized behavior therapy techniques that prompt speech and then reinforce successful speaking experiences with lots of labeled praise and small incentives.
  • We teach parents the skills kids are learning in therapy and help them look for opportunities to reinforce those skills at home. We provide live coaching for parents to make sure they master the skills.
  • We guide the child to do “brave talking” by systematically bringing the therapist closer while the parent and child play, then gradually fade the parent out of the room.
  • We use generalization, which means taking therapy “on the road” – we go to stores and other places in the community to help the child practice. We provide multiple contexts for practicing “brave talking,” including a weekly practice peer group.
  • We assign homework so parents can practice out of session and keep momentum going.
  • We collaborate with the child’s school, provide staff trainings and offer specific strategies for use in the classroom.
  • When medication may be helpful, our team works with board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrists at the Child Mind Institute or collaborates with your physician.

Intensive Treatment Services

For children with severe symptoms or for families who are traveling long distances for treatment, we offer intensive interventions. Our intensive treatment services permit a patient to be seen for several hours a day, several days a week, depending on need. We work with children of all ages, providing direct behavior intervention with the child and coaching with parents. Individual intensive treatment is often beneficial for children who are not yet ready for a group setting or who fall outside of the age range for our groups. All families start with a one hour consultation to identify the individual needs of the patient and family and guide treatment planning.

Brave Buddies® Program

Brave Buddies® is a group intensive behavioral therapy program to help children with SM ages 3 to 12 speak in school and other public settings. Using a simulated classroom, the program offers children a safe environment to practice “brave talking” with positive feedback. We offer two multi-day programs each year, in February and August, and day-long programs four times a year.

We also offer Brave Buddies® for children between the ages of 8 and 12 who need group based intervention but are older than the typical Brave Buddies® child. During the program, which runs as one- and multi-day formats, we use a classroom-like structure, modified to fit the needs of older children. Activities are tailored to be fun, relevant, and engaging, such as yoga, presenting to the group on a favorite topic, field trips, and ample time for peer-to-peer interactions.

Learn More About Treatment

Free Resources

For more information, view our guides What Parents Should Know About Selective Mutism and Selective Mutism Basics.

Our Team

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