Helping Your Child, Treatment

Fading In: Our Go-To Technique

Fading in, also called sliding in, is used to help the child with selective mutism by gradually exposing them to the feared person or location while providing positive reinforcement for the child’s continued speaking. The child and a person they are already comfortable talking to begin a speaking activity (usually some type of game). The novel person gradually approaches and eventually joins in with the activity while the child continues to speak. The child speaks in front of, and then directly to the novel person.


  • Can be used in many places with all sorts of people.
  • You can make it a very gradual process which is good for the child who is just starting treatment or is very anxious about speaking in front of, and to, others.
  • Starts out with the child talking to someone they are already comfortable with.
  • Can be used with people familiar to the child as well as new people.
  • The child can choose an activity they enjoy (as long as it involves speaking).
  • It gets easier and quicker with time.
  • It encourages conversation in a natural way.
  • For kids advancing to higher-level communication, you can include more conversation skills.


  • It can be time consuming, especially in the beginning.
  • It may take many sessions to get the child talking comfortably.
  • There is a warm-up time involved, so if you have less than 10-15 minutes for a session the child might never get past their initial anxious feelings.
  • Sometimes teachers may not have a large enough chunk of time to support effective sessions.
  • To fade in a new teacher at school, you need to start with access to an empty classroom, which sometimes is difficult to coordinate.

Our experience with fading in

We have used fade-ins a lot!  They have been very effective, especially when Buttercup and Petunia were very reluctant to speak in the beginning.  The drawback is that it can be time consuming.  In the beginning, we needed a minimum of about 20 minutes per session to start seeing progress; less than that, and our girls were still in the warm-up phase.  Thirty minutes was about perfect.

Initially, we needed to do about 3-5 sessions or more to get Buttercup and Petunia comfortably speaking to the new person in my presence.  Then it could take a few more sessions for me to be able to “fade out” of the situation.  With Petunia, it took many months for her to eventually talk without me there.  As we did more and more fade-in sessions with new people, it got easier for Buttercup and Petunia, and we were able to do the entire process of fading in and fading out in one session.

We found that the fading in was easier to do with brand new people they had never met before and it took longer with people that they already had established silence with.  Eventually, we didn’t need an elaborately planned fade-in for Buttercup and Petunia to start talking to new people, and we moved our focus to planned exposure therapy.  However, sometimes we do go back and do a fade-in session if we are having trouble with a certain person or location.

We have done fade-in sessions with teachers, peers, friends, relatives, and neighbors; we have done them in our home, at school, at a park, at church, and at a friend’s house.  Buttercup and Petunia have really enjoyed this technique because they get to choose an activity that they like, and once they get going they forget their fear and relax.  As they laugh and play with the other person they also develop a special bond with them.

How we did it


Here is one example of how we used fading in. Our goal was to get Petunia to speak to her preschool teacher.  I gave the teacher detailed instructions beforehand that described her role.  I prepared Petunia in advance by explaining that we were going to play a card game in her classroom.  We had two versions of “Go Fish” and I let her choose which one she wanted to play.  I explained that every time she used her brave voice during the game, she would get a check mark, and if she got enough check marks (the amount that she earned was always enough), she would earn a reward.  I told her that we would start out alone, but eventually her teacher would come in and join us when she was ready.

To carry out the fading in, we would arrive in the classroom 20 minutes before class started.  With the teacher, Mrs. S, outside of the room, Petunia and I would start a game of “Go Fish.”  After about 5 minutes, once the game was going and Petunia was speaking normally, Mrs. S would gradually make her way into the classroom.  She would first stop by the door with her back to us and pretend she was busy doing something.  If Petunia continued to speak normally to me, Mrs. S would come a little closer, still ignoring us.  If Petunia fell silent, Mrs. S would retreat until normal speaking resumed and then start progressing toward us again.

Eventually, Mrs. S was near enough and I would ask her if she would like to watch us play.  Mrs. S would watch from a short distance and again gradually move toward us and sit at the table where we were playing.  All this time I would give Petunia check marks for her brave words.  Mrs. S would make comments about what she was observing in the game.

When I sensed that Petunia was ready, I would invite Mrs. S to play with us.  At first, Petunia would only speak to me, asking me if I had “card X” and saying “Go Fish” if she did not have what I asked for, but as the game got going and she was having fun, she would open up and speak directly to Mrs. S.  Then I would transfer the check mark sheet to Mrs. S to fill out.  When I was out of cards, then Petunia would have to speak to Mrs. S to keep the game going.  If things were going well, I would pretend to answer my phone and step away from the table to talk, gradually wandering farther from Petunia as she continued speaking.

We went through this procedure 5 times with Mrs. S before we got all the way through.  Each time we would start at the beginning and then stop when it was time for class.  Each session we got further along, until Petunia was to the point where she could talk comfortably to Mrs. S without me by her side.  Then we began to fade-in the assistant teacher and some of her peers.

The process was time intensive, but it worked, and it was something that Petunia was willing to do–play a fun game and earn rewards at the same time.  When you are trying to generalize the speaking to more people and places, you can repeat the process, changing just one thing at a time (the activity, the people, or location) so you don’t overwhelm the child.

Helpful hints

  • In the beginning, choose an activity with a low communication load (saying one word or even just making a sound) and then move up to harder things like answering questions and then asking questions when your child is ready.
  • Practice playing the game first at home with people the child already talks to.
  • Use PRIDE skills with the child: Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, Enthusiasm.
  • Prepare the person who is fading in with detailed instructions, including how to use PRIDE skills.
  • Learn about using PRIDE in Parent-Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT) here.

Watch a fading in session

Video – SM Mock Fade-In Procedure (Thriving Minds)

Video – How to Fade in a New Adult with PCIT-SM (Kurtz Psychology)

Parent/Professional recommended fading in games with links to purchase


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Related Posts:

Treating Selective Mutism – What Works?

How Shaping is Used to Treat Selective Mutism

Exposure Therapy: Climbing the Ladder


1 thought on “Fading In: Our Go-To Technique”

  1. Thank you for the detailed and easy to understand description. I thought I understood fading in but your comprehensive description helped me to understand it better.

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