A Perspective on Summer Camps for Children Who Stutter: 1991 - 1998

About the presenters: Ellen M. Bennett, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Texas in El Paso. She has been practicing speech therapy for 18 years. For 8 years she was the Fluency Specialist for the Ysleta ISD. In 1992, she left the schools to pursue her doctorate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Graduating in 1996 she returned home to teach at UTEP. She is co-owner of the Speech Therapy Group, a private practice where she specializes in fluency cases. She has presented both locally and nationally for years. Jenna Batik is a second year graduate student in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at the University of Texas in El Paso.

A Perspective on Summer Camps for Children Who Stutter: 1991 - 1998

by Ellen Bennett
and Jenna M. Batik
Texas, USA

It began eight years ago, a venture which continues to thrive and amaze us. In 1991, twenty two children who stutter (CWS), 5 SLP volunteers, and eleven UTEP SLP students came together for a week of learning and fun. Sponsored by the Ysleta Independent School District, the camp's goals were to provide support for children who stutter through the camp experience; provide working SLPs with hands-on experience with children who stutter; and provide university SLP students with the exposure to children who stutter in hopes of developing the skills to assist them. The camp has grown over the years. The district continues to fund and support this program. Enrollment has doubled from 22 children who stutter in 1991 to 46 CWS in 1998. Six salaried SLPs and twelve university SLP students worked the five day camp.

It is the collaborative effort of SLPs and UTEP SLP interns which makes the camp a unique experience. From the moment the children get off the bus to the closing ceremonies on the last day of camp, change is occurring. Let us look further into the changes we observed in the all who participated.

The Campers

The greatest change experienced by the CWS was that of a sense of empowerment over their speech, observed as they learned more about the disorder of stuttering. Campers came to realize that there was more than one way in which to stutter and that everyone stutters in a different way. They were in a safe, positive environment in which there were no expectations of fluency. They were free to be themselves.

This freedom helped lead to a sense of acceptance of their speech. The children began to experience less emotional reaction to their stuttering. Focus was placed on what the CWS had to say, not on how they said it. I recall one student, named "Joe," who made a dramatic shift in his comfort level surrounding speech. On the second day of camp, we began to discuss different ways of stuttering (e.g. blocks, repetitions, prolongations). As I modeled these behaviors in front of my group of 12-14 year old students, I asked each camper to look at me while I stuttered and then tell me what type of stuttering I was producing. When it was Joe's turn, he put his hands over his ears, turned his whole body away from me and said "I can't listen to that!" I responded empathetically to Joe's obvious pain and discomfort and moved on to the next student. During the next couple of days, we worked closely with Joe, supporting him, encouraging him, and most importantly, listening to him non-judgemently. By the fourth day of camp, Joe began to take risks with his speech by inserting easy stuttering into his speech. He even volunteered to share what he had learned that day during the large group activity. In front of close to 60 people, Joe stood up and shared his thoughts in a loud, confident (but not fluent) voice. To us, this behavior symbolized success for this camper.

As the camp progressed, most campers gained insight into themselves and their speech. The sense of isolation faded as they met other campers who also struggled with speaking. New friends played together with less "communicative pressure" or dread of exposing their stuttering. We noticed that, initially, campers were shy and quiet, appearing to be fearful of interacting with one another. Some campers would even make fun of each other's speech, possibly due to their own discomfort level and fear of the unknown. As the camp progressed, the characteristics of their interactions changed. The comradery within each group created a sense of belonging. The spirit of competition further encouraged group interactions. For example, the campers worked together to name their team and create a banner which symbolized the characteristics of their group. Each group would try to out do the other, even when it came to speech related tasks. One day we had a scavenger hunt around the school. Each team was given a list of items to find. As an item was located, the team member would give it to their "coach" and use some form of easy stuttering during this interaction. When the team collected all the items on their list, they brought these items to the camp director who checked them off. Off went the campers, giving directions, asking questions, laughing, and having fun. These "stuttering campers" needed no encouragement, prodding, or bribes; the motivation came from within. The camp was providing them a safe, fun environment to be themselves, talk despite stuttering, and learn in the process.

The Speech Language Pathologists

Working with children who stutter has not been a "favorite" part of the speech pathologists' job. Researchers have found that fluency disorders are not as popular as others disorderss (St. Louis & Durrenberger, 1992; St. Louis & Lass, 1981). Therapists feel ill prepared to work with this population, which in return promotes discomfort. The camp's goal for the working SLP was to reverse this trend and provide a hands-on continuing education experience. Despite this reserve, we did not have difficulty recruiting SLPs for the camp. Initially, five SLPS volunteered to participate and received no monetary compensation. Currently, six SLPs are paid full salary for their camp involvement. Comments such as "I enjoyed the camp tremendously," "I learned so much - from therapy to counseling," and "The camp was an extremely rewarding experience" exemplify their attitudes toward this opportunity.

We believe that the changes that occurred in the attitudes of the initial group of therapists was reflected in their future work with CWS. Word spread of their successes and the district began to reap the benefits of this increased confidence. We continue to get full cooperation and support for our camp from the school district and its speech therapists.

The University SLP Interns

"I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate," said one UTEP student. Comments like this only begin to reflect the changes made by the university interns. Interns paired up with a peer and working SLP to work with a team of approximately 6-8 CWS. Given a pre-designed curriculum to follow, off they went to create, discover, and enjoy. The interns initial reaction to the CWS can be described as "uncertainty." Not knowing how to react when the child stutters, difficulty modeling a slower speech rate, and their discomfort with pseudostuttering are examples of this uncertainty. As the week progressed, the interns began to comprehend the individual needs of their campers and appreciate the complexities of this disorder. Written comments from the interns may help us understand their change process.

"I enjoyed the kids and the different perspectives they gave me on stuttering" said one intern's. Notes such as "I really learned a lot about working with children who stutter" and "I learned things I could use in therapy as well as everyday life" tell us that this opportunity was worthwhile. When asked what they liked about the camp, one intern wrote "Interacting with the kids and learning new techniques and seeing the change in the kids from the first day to the last is what I liked about camp." Another commented that "Listening to how they feel is the most important thing we can do."

Finally, the interactions between the SLP and intern proved to be highly beneficial. One intern wrote that she "loved" the interaction among therapists. They learned from each other and together overcame their "fear" of the child who stutters. We observed the creativeness that comes from group work and the excitement it created among the camp participants. "Wow, look at that. That's great!" and "Hey, look what we did" were repeatedly heard throughout the week. One therapist noted that she "appreciated the materials" she obtained. And another intern so eloquently summarized her camp experience:

"I liked the organization and systematic sequence of activities that builds up to a climatic, harmonious understanding of the subject accompanied by strong friendship ties."


In summary, we consider the Ysleta Independent School District Summer Fluency Camp to be a successful, rewarding experience for CWS, working SLPs, and university interns. We would like to encourage other public school therapists to advocate for the establishment of summer programs for CWS. Camps can become a reality for you. The effort which goes into organizing and directing this venture is well worth it. The smiles on the children's face as they leave on the last day of camp will always be remembered. The "thanks" and "see you next year" empower us to continue. And then there is always the voice of the younger campers, their eyes shining at you as they say "Bu Bu Bye Miss Ellen" in a smooth, easy way. No longer do they have to struggle, feel bad, and shy away. That is what the camp is all about.


St. Louis, K.O. & Durrenberger, C.H. (1992, November). Clinician preferences for managing various communication disorders. Paper presented at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention, San Antonio, Texas.

St. Louis, K.O. & Lass, N.J. (1981). A survey of communicative disorders students' attitudes toward stuttering, Journal of Fluency Disorders, 6, 49-79.

September 2, 1998