Author Spotlight - Finding Voice: Treating Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety

Author Spotlight - Finding Voice: Treating Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety
Finding Voice: Treating Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety

Dr. Robert L. Schum, author of Finding Voice: Treating Selective Mutism
and Social Anxiety,
discusses his new book in an interview detailing the
practical actions and evidence-based methods for treating selective
mutism and social anxiety.

What is “selective mutism”?

Selective mutism is a condition in which a person does not speak in
specific social and public situations, but speaks more easily in private
and personal situations. It occurs more frequently in children than in
adults, and affects about 1% of children. It is related to social
anxiety disorder, a condition that affects about 13% of people some time
in their lives, in childhood or adolescence. Selective mutism is not
caused by a learning disorder or a language difference in the social
situation. Symptoms of selective mutism have been reported in various
cultures around the world.

Who should read your book?

Parents, therapists, and teachers involved with children who show
symptoms of selective mutism and social anxiety disorder.

What’s in it for parents?

This book provides accurate information for parents about the condition
of selective mutism and the likely causes of it. It provides practical
advice on how they can help their children feel more comfortable
speaking in public situations. This is a book parents can share with
other family members, so that grandparents, aunts and uncles, and
siblings can better understand a child who has selective mutism.

The book also gives parents advice on how to work with school staff to
provide positive, effective support for the socially anxious child. It
also gives tips for managing particular social situations that can pose
difficulties for such children, such as security screenings at an
airport or picture day at school.

What’s in it for teachers?

Teachers often report they have never previously encountered a child
with selective mutism. They sometimes say that their school district is
at a loss when it comes to developing a plan to support these children.
This book provides practical actions to better integrate a child with
selective mutism into classroom activities. It explains how a teacher
can be a positive force to help the child eventually become more
comfortable with talking at school.

Within the school domain, this book is also relevant for school
administrators and special education staff. It gives advice to staff on
how to develop accommodation plans to support these youngsters.

What’s in it for therapists?

This book presents a commonsense, systematic procedure for increasing
social speech. It is based on evidence-based methods that have been used
to treat anxiety disorders in older children and adults. It provides
specific case examples of how to adapt therapy techniques to children
and adolescents of different ages, and with different variations of
selective mutism.

The intended audience for these therapeutic procedures is
psychotherapists who work with children and adolescents, and
speech-language pathologists who often provide communication therapy for
children who have selective mutism.

What makes this book unique compared with other books about selective

There are only a few other books written about selective mutism, but
there are three things that make this book unique:

  • a focus on actions rather than descriptions
  • a unified program that can be shared by parents, teachers, and therapists
  • stepwise procedures that recognize a child’s development level for both social interaction and cognitive understanding

Other books written about selective mutism tend to emphasize
descriptions and explanations, devoting less time on intervention
activities. The books that talk about intervention often emphasize
information for specific groups, such as families or teachers. In
contrast, this book is action-oriented, providing many ideas on how to
elicit more communication from the child. Furthermore, it emphasizes
using similar activities at home, in the classroom, and in the therapy
room, so that the relevant people in the child’s life are using a
coordinated approach and share similar expectations.

This book emphasizes two important points for everyone to remember.
First is to focus on communication, rather than merely speech. Children
who have selective mutism often attempt alternative methods of
communicating in social situations, and adults need to recognize and
support those efforts because they can eventually be converted into
speech. “Any communication is good communication.” The second point is
to maintain a positive and supportive approach to eliciting more
communication. It emphasizes an encouraging, fun approach for the
children, rather than a demanding and controlling method.

What are common myths about selective mutism?

The most common myths I have heard in my work are:

  • Children exhibit this behavior because they are being oppositional and stubborn.
  • Selective mutism is caused by trauma.
  • Selective mutism is caused by parents who baby their children too much.
  • Medication is effective in treating this.
  • There is nothing a therapist or a school can do to help a child.

These unfounded ideas are discussed in this book.

Why did you write the book?

For much of my career I provided psychotherapy to children who had
selective mutism. When I retired, I decided to write a book about
effective ways of treating the disorder. I wanted to pass on “lessons
learned” to better help these children.

As a psychologist, I traveled around the United States providing
training to professionals. I found that few professionals feel they have
the skills to treat selective mutism. Also, many parents wrote me about
their difficulty finding a therapist who could help them with their
children. Finally, I consulted with staff in many school districts
across the country, and found that educators often feel they lack the
training and resources to help these children in the classroom, one of
the most difficult situations for social communication.

The purpose, then, was to provide practical and accurate information,
both to understand selective mutism and to learn effective methods of
helping these children become more comfortable speaking in public

For additional information about author Robert Schum, visit his author