Outreach Initiatives With Children Who Stutter

About the presenter: Bonnie L. Weiss works as Administrative Asst. in the Department of Classics at the University at Buffalo. She became active in the National Stuttering Project in 1994 and helped to found the Buffalo Chapter that year. In 1995, she became a member of the Board of Directors of the NSP, and is currently the National Chapter Coordinator. Bonnie chaired the national convention of the NSP held in Buffalo in 1997.

Reaching Out To Kids Who Stutter

by Bonnie Weiss
New York, USA

Recently I reached back into my memory and pulled up some thoughts and feelings about being a child who stuttered. What impressed me most about being a kid who stuttered is that I felt so alone. There was no one whom I could talk to about why I had so much trouble speaking, and there didn't seem to be anyone who understood the feelings of fear and shame and guilt that went hand in hand with being kid who stuttered.

In 1994, I attended my first NSP convention in Cleveland, Ohio. For the first time in my life, I met a lot of people who stuttered. It did not take me long, as an adult, to feel that I had finally "come home." I found more friends there than I ever imagined. And they were all like me--they stuttered.

It was at Cleveland that I met some very special young people who stuttered. I was amazed at their friendliness, their openness in sharing, and their courage. They were there with their parents, who truly cared and showed their support. They were there with their friends from throughout the United States and Canada who stuttered, and they were with adults who stuttered who could help them to know that they were not alone.

After the Cleveland convention, we started a chapter of the NSP in Buffalo, New York. As a group of adults who stuttered, we began to reach out to youth who stuttered, wanting to make a difference in their lives. One particular teenager, Jim, started coming out to some of our meetings with his Mom. He came off and on when he wasn't busy with school and other youth activities. Jim shared with us, and we shared with him. He was an inspiration, We knew that there were other young folks in our area who stuttered. As a group, we started to talk about how to reach them.

In October of 1997, the Buffalo Chapter of the National Stuttering Project sponsored a workshop for children and teens who stutter, their parents, and SLPs. The workshop was entitled STUTTERING: SHARING THE RESPONSIBILITY. More than 50 people attended this workshop, and children and teens from Western New York, Southern Ontario, and Northeast Pennsylvania got a chance to meet one another, have fun, and share. They had a chance to meet adults who stutter and hear them talk about themselves, their struggles with stuttering as kids, but more than that, the adults who stuttered encouraged the kids to look at what they could do with their lives. Speaking to the teens and their parents were adults who stuttered from all walks of life--a speech-language pathologist, a nurse practitioner, a doctor, an architect, an engineer--to name a few.. We also all had a lot of fun with the younger children. At the end of the day, one eight year old boy asked us if we could have another workshop "soon"!!! We knew we had to do something more. Our latest venture, Stutter Buddies, is a newsletter for teens and children who stutter. We have just finished our third issue. Inspired by Dr. Gary J. Rentschler, Ph.D., who is a speech-language pathologist and a person who stutters, the newsletter contains articles and drawings from youth who stutter as well as from adults who stutter. It also contains information regarding stuttering for parents and SLPs. We have 300 folks on our mailing list, including all public and private school speech-language pathologists. During the past few months, we have gotten calls and letters from kids who stutter, asking that they be put on the mailing list so that they could get their "own copies." Several youngsters have written some articles and done some drawings for us. Jim, the young man who inspired us, wrote an article entitled "A Mountain to Climb" for our third issue.

by Jim S.

For the fluent person, speaking seems as easy as walking on a paved road. Yet to the stutterer, each social situation is like a mountain or hill that is in their path. In this story I'm going to tell, it felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest while going through an avalanche.

It all began when I arrived at an open-mike poetry reading that was at our high school. Before I arrived, I was in my house debating whether or not I should read some of the poems I have written. A reason why I did not want to go up was because my poems were very personal and it would really hurt to feel criticism on them. Another reason was the fact that I stutter, which would cause me to be criticized even more. However, I brought along my poems anyway just in case I might actually go up.

At the reading, there were 30 to 40 people in the cafeteria. The lights were turned down dim and there were some treats located on the side. All of a sudden I saw my closest friends sitting at one table. Two of them did not even go to this school. It was a nice surprise to see all of them. A sheet was passed onto our table with all of the readers' names on them. I signed my name on the list and then thought about what I had just done. The reading began and went on while I sat at the table checking over the two poems I was planning to read. My friend made a special reservation to go last. Before he went, a teacher asked if there were any last minute people who wanted to go but who were not on the list. My friends and I knew I wrote my name on the list but the teacher didn't see it. Here was my chance to either show myself or sit it out.

When I stood up and walked over to the podium, I felt a rush of victory come over me as my friends applauded for me. Silence fell, and the tension was like nothing I have ever felt before. I knew there was no turning back or holding back. I just had to read the two poems that were intimately linked to me.

I read and every syllable was like a step into an avalanche on a mountain. Yet I pulled through each step of the way. Everyone was intently focused on each word I said. Finally, I was done and I had conquered a massive fear in my life.

After the reading, many people came up to me and complimented me on the way that I wrote, not mentioning my stuttering. Speaking while being a stutterer is not easy but I learned that people are more concerned with what you say rather than how you say it.

Now, you go on your own "mountain" and see what you can learn!!

We are excited about Stutter Buddies, and are hoping to reach every youth who stutters in northeast Ohio, northeast Pennsylvania, Western New York, and Southern Ontario. We truly want this to be a regional endeavor, with the chapter members in Pittsburgh, PA and Cleveland, OH lending a hand.

We are currently helping to plan an international workshop for adults who stutter, kids who stutter, their parents and speech-language pathologists.

Co-sponsored by the National Stuttering Project (NSP) and the Canadian Association of People Who Stutter (CAPS), this workshop is within easy driving distance of folks from Western New York and surrounding areas as well as folks in Southern Ontario and Toronto. This workshop is planned to coincide with International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22nd. We are expecting that the conference on Saturday, October 24th, will be an exciting day for all of us, and we are hoping to see a lot of our young friends at this workshop.

September 16, 1998