My Experience as a Counselor at “Outside Voice” Selective Mutism Camp

By Natalie Maldonado

As a recent graduate with a degree in Psychological Science and one who has been an advocate for students with special needs, working in the local unified school district for the last 4 years, I felt like I would be very qualified for the volunteer position at the Selective Mutism camp. Initially, my feelings and expectations going into camp on day 1 did not match up with what I actually experienced during the camp. After leaving camp on day 1, I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, and even a little apprehensive at the thought of returning for days 2 through day 4. It was such hard work for both the campers and I to form that connection and for me to set up an environment for them to feel comfortable enough to be able to find and use their voice. That initial apprehension drove me to feel determined to try my best and to focus on the kids, and their needs.

My goal from day 1 to day 4 was to focus on each camper that I had the opportunity to work with and to create an atmosphere that was comfortable, secure, and relaxed for them. At the beginning, I noticed some of the counselors and campers were a little nervous and anxious, but those feelings diminished as the days went on. We did many activities that I have seen in a public-school setting: birthday parties, show and tell, demonstrations on specific tasks, asking new friends questions about themselves, independent free play and playing with peers, award ceremonies, and on the last day we went on a field trip to a local children’s museum. These students were given tasks, opportunities, and prompts to overcome their anxiety and fears in new settings among unfamiliar faces and they did an absolutely amazing job! It is quite astonishing to see them overcome some of their fears right in front of our eyes. From day 1 to day 4, I noticed these campers’ skills improve drastically. I hope they will carry their new skills onto their everyday lives upon leaving camp.

It has been an amazing opportunity and pleasure to work with and witness these kids learn new skills that will help them break down their barriers of anxiety and fear. Looking back on day 1 and the lack of energy I felt to day 4 where I felt like the kids did not necessarily need me there anymore, they had become so independent and were constantly interacting with other kids using their voices. I cannot put into words the feeling I felt when I was able to witness firsthand the trials these little ones overcame and the dismay they were encouraged to face that only made them stronger. Of course, it takes baby steps to progress in any situation but what I witnessed with these campers specifically were not only baby steps, but leaps!