John Tolley, September 3, 2017
The etiology of stuttering, the speech disorder characterized by repeated sounds and abnormal pauses or hesitations, is unknown. The impairment can stem from a number of different factors, making each case unique. What is known is the effect it can have on a person, capable of causing severe social anxiety, fear of public speaking and often leading to stigmatization.
These can be difficult for an adult who stutters to deal with; for a child, who faces increased social pressure to be "normal," these issues can be paralyzing.
In order to scrub the stigma and confront these ill effects head-on, the University of Minnesota offers a summer camp called Kids Who Stutter (UMKWS). The camp is operated by the university's Julia M. Davis Speech-Language-Hearing Center, and is offered on a half-day basis in two units, one for children in grade 3-5 the other for children in grades 6-8.
The main objective of the camp is to allow children with a shared impairment get to know one another, bond and build friendships in an environment that is judgement free. UMKWS takes campers across the Twin Cities campus, exploring unique spaces and museums and participating in a host of fun activities.
Campers also get a chance to work with graduate student clinicians on how best to handle stuttering. Larger group discussions cover topics such as bullying, coping strategies, negative and positive self-talk, and how to develop a support network.
Through listening, both to others and one's self, the campers are encouraged to recognize and become desensitized to their stutter, hopefully reducing the anxiety associated with it. They also develop skits that help communicate to those who don't stutter what they would like them to know about the disorder.
On their website, UMKWS offers some pretty incredible testimonials from kids and parents alike. Listed below are just a few that exemplify the impact that the camp has on those who attend and their families:
"You can realize that you are not alone in your stuttering and there are many people your same age going through the same things that you are." -Joshua, attended UMKWS for six straight years.
"Our daughter comes home excited every day from camp and is always sad when it ends. She looks forward to seeing old friends every summer and always walks away with new ones. We are really grateful for the lessons she learns. Her confidence about her stuttering-and how to deal with those who don't understand-soars." – Parent
"I am so thankful for this chance for my son to be in a group where he is not thought to be different. The support and encouragement he receives from the other kids and adults is something no therapist can provide." – Parent
The Davis Center also offers programs aimed at the teen and college levels, run by students and faculty of the speech-language pathology department. Both support groups meet throughout the year and provide participants with a safe and comfortable space to discuss how stuttering effects them and how to develop strategies to deal with the disorder as one ages and enters the workforce.