How do you help a child who is able to talk, but can’t or won’t talk in a social situation? Finding Voice provides valuable, actionable support for teachers, therapists and parents seeking to help children who are struggling with verbal communication in social and educational settings.
Selective mutism exists when a child is unable to speak in specific social and personal situations and when that deficit is not caused by a learning disorder or a language difference. It’s a condition more closely aligned with a social anxiety disorder than a physical disability.
This book presents a systematic procedure for increasing social speech. It was built on evidence-based methods that have been used to treat anxiety disorders in older children and adults. Dr. Schum notes that the approach to treatment for children with selective mutism varies according to individual behavioral variations and the child’s own progress. For this reason, he does not recommend a manualized, “one size fits all” approach.
His methodology encourages and instructs the child’s helpers to create a personalized strategy, or “menu”, that builds on the child’s strengths while expanding and strengthening skills necessary to address social challenges.
The author shares his years of experience helping children, their families, and their teachers. He includes a variety of case histories with insightful intervention examples based on best-practice procedures for elementary school to adolescence. This book covers assessment, treatment, and school intervention.
Finding Voice will help 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 situations. This book teaches how to create different treatment plans, based on each specific case of the children and their parents.
A unified approach allows parents, teachers and therapist to work together in coordination to promote both social interaction and cognitive understanding. A consistent approach is advocated whether it is through activities at home, in the classroom or in the therapy room.
The overall goal is to improve on the communication abilities the child already has to make him or her more confident and verbally proficient in communicating through every channel.
Shown below is Prosocially Yours, a podcast produced by Research Press. In this episode, host Elizabeth Hess interviews clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Robert L. Shum, about his career in working with children diagnosed with selective mutism. Don’t miss this insightful and informative interview.
“Finding Voice is a treasure trove of information for treating the relatively rare condition of selective mutism. I highly recommend it to anyone challenged to support both the child who cannot find his way out of a trap of silence and the individuals who so desperately want to help.”
—Kate Hefty, NCSP, Communiqué, published by The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
“Selective Mutism is an often misunderstood and confusing mental health problem. The book fills a major void in the literature on the treatment of selective mutism. Dr. Schum provides a concise and well formulated resource, written in plain, easy to understand language, explaining the integral differences between selective mutism and social anxiety. His work is not only clinically useful, but extremely informative for families and school personnel alike, who are struggling to find ways of understanding and helping the selectively mute child. His case examples help to mitigate the myths that often surround these children. This book provides the reader with concrete guidelines that are easily followed to facilitate steps involved in enabling speech, and always taking in the developmental perspective of the child or adolescent, which is often overlooked in other works. This book should be a mandatory read for anyone working with selectively mute children. It is very well written, practical, and very informative.”
—Dr. Sandra L. Mendlowitz, PhD.,C. Psych.
Child & Youth Outpatient Mental Health. Psychiatry, SickKids Hospital
Assistant Professor, Child Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
“It is unusual to come upon a child therapy text that pulls together theory and empirically supported treatment approaches that are kid friendly and modified to meet the needs of each client. This text does all of this while at the same time alerting the reader to potential problems and pitfalls to recognize, address and hopefully avoid.
From chapter one it is clear that Dr. Schum not only understands this condition, but has spent hundreds of hours with these children and appreciates that despite the same diagnosis, symptom presentation will vary depending on the client and her/his family. Dr. Schum’s understanding of this condition and these children is communicated in a compassionate and clear manner. His empathy toward children with Selective Mutism is palpable, and will communicate to parents and clinicians the importance of accurately understanding the difference between “can’t” and “won’t” when it comes to speaking in select situations.
Children live in multiple spheres as they grow into young adults. Each of these areas requires communication in different ways and with different people. The role of the therapist stretches beyond the office walls. As Dr. Schum emphasizes, there is the need to involve all those who play an integral role in the child’s life in the treatment process. Further, while hopeful and optimistic about progress, Dr. Schum is clear in stating that time is not a goal in treatment; rather, the goal is for children to verbally communicate, and allowing them the time needed to pursue and reach this goal is part of the treatment process.
Dr. Schum’s ability to clearly layout the theory and empirical justification from which his treatment strategies flow, makes this book an excellent resource for multiple professionals. Not only will the seasoned psychologist and therapist steeped in an understanding of behaviorism and CBT find strategies that will be useful on “Monday morning,” but the novice who is just beginning to work with kids with Selective Mutism will find a road map that not only offers direction for treatment but makes her or him aware of likely challenges that will be found along the way. Speech Language Pathologists will also find this book an excellent adjunct in their treatment of socially anxious children with language disorders.”
—Kenneth L Grizzle, PhD., Pediatric Psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
“An expert in the assessment and treatment of children with communication and language disorders, Dr. Robert Schum draws upon several decades of clinical practice to further our understanding of children with selective mutism. Although selective mutism is relatively rare, this book should be read by everyone who works with children – teachers, speech-language pathologists, medical and mental health professionals, as well as by parents of children with selective mutism. Even if they do not see children with selective mutism, the material on social anxiety is worth the read. There is so much valuable information to assist in differential diagnosis and treatment, as well as refuting some of the common misconceptions surrounding selective mutism. The information presented in chapters on Living with Anxiety, Toys and Games, Adolescents, Don’ts, and Housekeeping are especially innovative. Similarly, the appendices are extremely useful with specific details regarding assessment, 504 accommodation, and lists of potential interventions.
Rather than a manual where one size fits all, this approach is tailored to the individual child, to the particular situations, people, and expectations that elicit anxiety severe enough to produce selective mutism. Dr. Schum presents numerous specific strategies and techniques to intervene and improve communication, utilizing the concepts of audience, familiarity, and performance. The intervention is a hierarchical approach structured so that the child can master anxiety at every level. It is very encouraging – “all communication is good communication”, and the chapters and figures illustrate the step-by-step approach for effective progress. Also critical is the need for everyone to be on the same page- parents, teachers, mental health professionals, an undertaking that is challenging but necessary to understand the particular needs of this child and how to enhance their progress.
The book presents selective mutism with a great deal of optimism. Dr. Schum’s case studies show that, while it is challenging for families and professionals, these children do well over time. Given the lack of research in this area thus far, we are fortunate to have the clinical experience of Dr. Schum and those who see children with selective mutism. This would be a next step for those interested in this field to develop research studies to test the efficacy of interventions.”
—Mary Jo Kupst, Ph.D., Emerita Professor of Pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin
“Dr. Schum’s book offers a fresh perspective and treatment tips for adolescents and older children, a population not frequently addressed in books on Selective Mutism. I look forward to using many of his activities with my adolescent patients!”
—Aimee Kotrba, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist, Owner of Thriving Minds Behavioral Health
Reproducible materials for this title are available on our downloads page.
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 mutism?
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 situations.
For additional information about author Robert Schum, visit his author page.