Many parents take their children’s talking ability for granted, but parents of children with selective mutism do not. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in which children will speak and be lively at home, but in social situations will not make a peep. Selective mutism is often misdiagnosed as shyness. The difference is that shy kids will be quiet at home and in social situations, but will quickly warm up to people. On the other hand, children with selective mutism seem fine when they are at home, but when they are in social situations, they become withdrawn. The traditional treatment for selective mutism is cognitive behavioral therapy. However, intensive, weeklong immersion classes are being developed that appear to be more successful than the traditional type of therapy. One of the first of these programs was held at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Family. The program consists of six hour days in a classroom-like situation in which the children are put through a variety of exercises to break through what scares them most. Each child is paired with an adult counselor, who they first meet with their parents and then the parents are slowly removed. The counselor helps the child navigate games, scavenger hunts and other situations in which the child must speak up. The program ends with a visit to a diner where the children order for themselves. The program enrolled 26 children and in the end, only four were still struggling. Programs like these are popping up in several states including places such as the NYU Langone Medical Center and the Child Mind Institute. Programs like these can be life-changing, not only for the children, but for their families, as well.
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