Dear SMA Community,
Navigating which professional(s) will be well-suited to help your child with Selective Mutism (SM) can be tough! Can the school help, and if so, what would they do? Do families also need seek out a psychologist, social worker, speech pathologist, and/or psychiatrist? The whole process can be daunting, but finding the right team is important.
The logical place to start is to voice your concerns to the school and your child’s physician. They may have experience with other children with SM, but even if they don’t, they will be probably be willing to do some research and/or refer you to community contacts and other professionals.
At the school, there are usually several key players—including the teachers, school interventionist(s), and members of the administration. Some team members, such as your child’s teachers and/or interventionists (e.g., the school social worker or speech pathologist), will be involved directly in the work to increase verbal communication (e.g., meeting 1:1 with your child to help them feel more comfortable, pairing your child with a buddy with whom they are already able to talk, carefully crafting questions to make it easier for your child to use their voice, etc.). Others, often the administrators, make sure that the plans that are proposed are consistent with school policies and educational laws. Upon your request, the school will likely consider an informal support plan and/or a Section 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program, both of which are formal special education service plans.
Many families find that working with a provider who is separate from the school is also helpful, with some assuming they should speak with a speech pathologist since there is a concern with the child’s communication, and others seeking out mental health professionals since they observe signs of anxiety in social situations. Regardless of discipline, a clinic-based professional would provide additional expertise, assist in accomplishing communication goals with family members and in the community, and support school speech goals, at times providing consultation to school staff. Finding the “right” professional has less to do with their specific profession or license type, and more to do with that professional’s experience in treating SM. Being an informed consumer of any therapy service is important; ask the professional about their treatment approach and methods, what involvement the professional will have with your child’s school, and how parents/other family members will participate in the therapy sessions. Some professionals may have had fewer cases of SM, but may be able to apply intervention strategies drawn from their work with other childhood anxiety disorders and learn about strategies that are very specific to SM.
If you are considering medication to support or maximize other intervention efforts, start by talking with your child’s pediatrician. They may refer you to a psychiatrist who is more experienced in the management of the types of medications that are typically prescribed to children with SM.
If you are unsure where to start, SMA maintains a list of selective mutism treating professionals who are members of our organization. Search your state and you may find a local professional who is experienced in treating Selective Mutism. Likewise, there is also a state/international coordinator for selective mutism section of our website. Our coordinators are passionate about SM advocacy and work to connect families with local providers and services.
Katelyn Reed, M.S., LLP
SMA Board of Directors