Some children freely participate in conversations with family and friends, but fall silent when they are in stressful or unfamiliar situations. This is more than just shyness—it’s selective mutism, a form of social anxiety that can affect a child’s ability to build relationships, enjoy activities, and excel in school.
At the Selective Mutism Service at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we carefully evaluate your child and determine the treatment options best suited to his or her needs, including cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and combinations of these methods.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Selective Mutism
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps children ages 3 to 14 overcome anxiety by providing support and helping them build skills with the help of their parents and, when appropriate, school personnel. We reward courageous talking, gradually moving from settings in which they are very comfortable to settings that are slightly different from what they are used to. This gradual exposure helps children gain confidence and courage without overwhelming them.
We aim to make activities fun but challenging, so that your child learns to overcome anxiety and avoidance of verbal interactions. We also coach parents and teachers in how to use methods to guide children to verbally communicate in different situations.
Selective Mutism Programs
When the traditional 1-hour weekly therapy session is not enough to change severe or entrenched behaviors, we offer intensive programs.
Camp Courage is a 4-day intensive summer program aimed at helping children ages 4 to 12 learn to communicate verbally in various social situations. The program helps children become more relaxed, participate in group activities, and communicate in situations that are similar to those they encounter in their daily lives.
To accomplish this, we create simulated classroom settings, lead arts and crafts sessions, go on field trips, encourage playdate practice, and engage in sports and movement activities. Through repeated practice and graduated exposure, children begin to conquer their fears.
Camp Courage is for children who have had some behavioral therapy, which creates a foundation that increases your child’s ability to benefit from group experiences.
Experts in selective mutism and communication disorders work one-on-one with children to facilitate relaxation and reward verbal communication. All clinicians are trained and supervised by Richard Gallagher, PhD, and Lauren Knickerbocker, PhD.
Based on our Camp Courage summer program, we host small group experiences one weekend day each month. On these days, your child participates in group activities with the help of a therapist who helps the group interact with each other and teaches relaxation techniques. Your child works on brave communication goals during activities that are similar to situations that he or she may face at home, at school, and in the community, such as circle time, arts and crafts, playdates, and placing food orders.
During the sessions, your child’s communication is rewarded with “courage cash” and a visit to the prize store at the end of the day. Children have multiple opportunities to try out new behaviors while having fun and feeling successful.
Concentrated Treatment Programs for Visitors
Sometimes families are not able to find experienced therapists in the area where they live. We offer individualized programs over multiple days for families who are able to visit New York City. The length of the customized program and its goals are based on a telephone evaluation and information collected from parents and teachers who know the child well.
Consultations to School Districts and Other Therapists
We offer training workshops for therapists and school mental health professionals. We discuss our intervention methods and other strategies that have been reported in clinical research literature. These workshops and consultations are tailored to meet the needs of therapists, individual professionals in school districts, or entire teams of school district professionals.
For more information about any of our Camp Courage or selective mutism programs, please contact our care management team at 646-754-5000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.