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Not Alone, Kids Who Stutter Find Support

February 23, 2016

Photo of kids posing with Goldy Gopher

Photo of kids posing with Goldy Gopher
Kids met a certain campus celebrity during their week at camp
Learn more about the Kids Who Stutter program at the University of Minnesota.

Children who stutter are often embarrassed and try to hide their stuttering—even if it means not talking. This can have a more serious impact on their lives than the stuttering itself. The University of Minnesota Kids Who Stutter Camp (UMKWS) brings together kids who stutter to meet, connect, and realize that they can be good communicators, even if they stutter.

“Stuttering is a debilitating challenge for people in all walks of life," says Joel Korte, an alumnus of the master's program in speech-language pathology and a person who stutters himself. "It can be especially daunting for children and teenagers due to the intense social pressures they face. Young people who stutter often feel isolated and alone when they deal with their disorder on a daily basis, but meeting peers who face the same challenge can be an extraordinarily powerful experience."

UMKWS has been bringing kids together for eight years since 2009 when Linda Hinderscheit, a clinical supervisor in speech-language pathology, was approached by Erin Bodner, who had just completed her master’s degree in speech-language pathology at the U of M. Bodner is a person who stutters and was particularly interested in developing programs to support the social and emotional development of children who stutter. Around the same time, Leo and Cheryl Sioris approached the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, because they were interested in helping kids who stutter and were willing to fund the services.  

The timing was right, and the University of Minnesota Kids Who Stutter camp was born.

UMKWS camp takes place in mid-June, after area school districts are out for the summer. Camp lasts one week and is split into half-day sessions. The morning session is held for children grades 3-5, and the afternoon session is held for grades 6-8. By keeping the groups small (10 or fewer), interaction among participants is encouraged. A very important (and fun) part of camp is going on field trips around the U of M campus, such as tours of the sports facilities, the Raptor Center, and bowling at Coffman Memorial Union. On the last day, campers go to McDonalds and order their own meals; something many of the kids have not done for themselves before. Camp is topped off with a performance about stuttering for families and friends. 

In addition to providing a place for kids who stutter to meet, the camp serves as a practicum experience for graduate students studying speech-language pathology. The goal for practicum students is to realize that the treatment of stuttering goes far beyond just working on speech. There are a lot of emotions and attitudes that need to be addressed in order for a child to participate fully in all environments. 

Over the years as the kids aged out of the camp, Hinderscheit saw the need to keep the ball rolling for kids as they faced the challenges of adolescence and then transitioning to adulthood. Teens Who Stutter (TWST) was launched a few years later. After that, a group for college students was begun. Both groups meet once per month on a Sunday afternoon in Shevlin Hall on the U of M campus. Korte and Bodner have remained integrally involved with UMKWS camp since that first year and are the heart and soul of camp.

The story would not be complete without thanking Leo and Cheryl Sioris for their foresight and dedication. Without their support, UMKWS, TWST, and the college group would truly not be possible. A mother, whose son has participated in all three experiences, wrote recently in a letter to the Siorises, “As a parent, working through the highs and lows of having a child who stutters is a learning experience, I was often scared of what the future would hold for him when he was younger; however, I have come to understand that stuttering is a part of him, and that the struggles he has encountered have made him the wonderful person he is today, kind to others, and accepting of differences. Thank you so much for your generous gift and foresight that lead to creating this opportunity for others.”

Alumnus Joel Korte embraces his stuttering and and leads a successful life—as the founder and owner of Chase Bliss Audio and as a new dad. Korte stays involved in the camps to reassure kids, adolescents and young adults who stutter that they have every opportunity in life to do what they desire. Korte’s story and his work with UMKWS has been featured in local media and in USA Today.