About the authors:
The first annual Stuttering U. summer program was held this past July, 2014 at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. The 5-day event consisted of a two-day continuing education workshop followed by a 3-day camp for children who stutter and their families. The first two authors co-directed the camp with the help of nearly 40 student volunteers.
Stuttering U. is unique in that it offers a continuing education workshop to speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who work with children who stutter. For the inaugural Stuttering U., the workshop was designed to provide participants with an overview of current research and clinical skills. Topics such as goal writing, therapy activities, and case studies allowed attendees to leave with real-world clinical tools to use with their clients. A pre-post test was distributed to assess participant learning. Results, which will be presented at the annual American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) Convention this November, suggested a significant change in participants’ overall knowledge and clinical management of stuttering. Improvement was particularly notable in SLPs’ ability to define stuttering or identify effective treatment approaches to target negative reactions. Overall, the workshop was successful in providing clinicians with knowledge and understanding of comprehensive assessment and treatment of children who stutter.
Attendees at the Stuttering U. summer camp were children aged 6 through 17, and their family members. The ultimate goal of the camp was to provide an opportunity for attendees to learn about stuttering, take communication risks, and develop meaningful relationships with others affected by stuttering. The camp consisted of a “camper track” and a “family track,” as well as combined group activities at the beginning and end of each day. The Stuttering U. camp slogan was, “Be Brave. Be Amazing. Be U.” The message was developed in order to convey that, although managing or living with stuttering can be challenging, it does not have to limit one’s life goals or freedom to be truly authentic.
During the “camper track,” children participated in both stuttering-related and traditional camp group activities as well as individual treatment. All activities were aimed at facilitating improved communication, building relationships, and improving overall self-confidence. Throughout the camp, children created tri-fold displays about what stuttering means to them, which they then presented to their families and other participants at the closing banquet. In addition, they took risks, both related and unrelated to communication, such as purposefully stuttering in public and climbing a 37-ft rock wall. Most importantly, the children were able to meet other children who stutter. It was remarkable to witness the campers’ growth both in their communication and confidence over the course of the camp.
For the family track, topics included discussion of the causes and nature of stuttering, the stuttering experience, and how to best support the needs of the child in the home, educational, and social settings. The camp directors held a consultation with each of the families in order to address any questions, concerns, and discuss a plan of treatment for their child. Parents consistently noted that the family track helped them to better understand stuttering and learn more information about how to help their child.
The event would not have been possible without the help of the many undergraduate and graduate speech-language pathology students from Marshall and WVU. The students were integral in managing paperwork, executing and facilitating activities, conducting individual therapy, and so on. However, their many logistical duties did not preclude them from experiencing the magic of the camp experience. The third author is an undergraduate student in the Department of Communication Disorders at Marshall University. She summarized her experiences as follows:
I had the privilege of volunteering at the first annual Stuttering U. summer camp after I finished my sophomore year of undergrad at Marshall University. Personally, the camp opened up my eyes to an entirely new world that I now have every intention of staying involved with. This was my first time working with people who stutter. Mary and Craig did a phenomenal job of integrating student volunteers into different activities to become more acquainted with stuttering. I was able to form personal relationships with individual campers, helping them to be more comfortable and more likely to enjoy their time with us. Through all of the activities and games we had during camp, I saw each of the campers grow and learn. I also feel that I grew as a student studying communication disorders. It was simply amazing. We had a fantastic group of campers and families. We all learned new information that will help us in our future endeavors. I hope to continue to be a part of Stuttering U., and this first year will always hold a spot near and dear to my heart. As we said many times during camp, “It’s ok to stutter!”
Based on the success of this camp, Stuttering U. will be an annual event. We hope to continue to grow the camp and make it a life-changing experience for professionals, students, families, and most importantly, children who stutter. Through collaboration and team building, we can improve the lives of children who stutter. Children can learn that it truly is ok to stutter and that they can be who and what they want to be.
All volunteers and parents of campers granted consent for the publication of photographs and video content below.
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