Speech therapy camp sees boost in enrollment

BY JOE HITCHON | JULY 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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For kids who stutter, the idea of being called on by a teacher to speak or read aloud in class can be a frightening possibility. But at the University of Iowa SPEAKS camp, these same kids are eager to participate.

"A lot of these kids think they are the only ones with a stutter," said Toni Cilek, the UI SPEAKS director and a clinical associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. "… But when they get here, they meet kids from around the Midwest who have the same condition. This is great for their self-esteem and for learning how to overcome their condition."

Held at the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic, the UI SPEAKS camp ran through the first week of June, with four follow-up sessions throughout the summer. The program has grown steadily from when it began six years ago with four or five campers — it now accommodates 14 the past two summers. The program has also begun taking in children from outside the state.

"We've started to get more kids from farther away, and we've had quite a few kids from surrounding states, so it is starting to look more like a regional camp," Cilek said.

Because there is no known cure for stuttering — a condition affecting nearly 3 million Americans — the goal of the program is to provide a safe and supportive environment in which children ages 8 to 12 can learn strategies to increase their speech fluency, practice their speech, meet other children who stutter, and also understand and talk openly about the problem.

Another benefit of the UI SPEAKS camp is the intense and immersive model of speech therapy that can be offered during the summer months. Each child is paired with a certified graduate student clinician, which allows for more personalized speech therapy and more assistance in the activities.

The UI Communication Sciences and Disorders Department is home to the nation's first speech-pathology program and where Wendell Johnson pioneered a new approach to stuttering therapy in the 1950s, recognizing stuttering as neither a physical nor neurological problem.

Today, the program still uses a modified version of Johnson's approach, one that includes both individual and group therapy and involves clinicians working closely with their patients and their families to better understand their attitudes, thoughts, and experiences with stuttering.

"The improvement has really been amazing, and it does a lot for making the children feel more confident with the condition while at school and with friends," said Ronda Kopf of Des Moines. "This is the fourth year we've attended the camp, and the strategies the children learn have been very helpful."

But the children are not the only ones who stand to benefit from the UI SPEAKS camp — the parents also find welcome support from meeting other parents who can relate to the concerns of raising a child who stutters.

"It was really nice to meet other parents who had kids who stutter," said Andrea Jacobsen, who brings her son from Ankeny for the camp. "We could talk about things that worked for us or maybe did not work for us, share experiences, and relate. It just ended, and he is already asking about next year."

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