The Stuttering Foundation (www.stutteringhelp.org), the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization that works toward the prevention and improved treatment of stuttering, has awarded a summer internship to Susannah Parkin, an AHI Undergraduate Fellow and psychology major at Hamilton College. “Susannah is an incredibly bright and talented young lady,” commented Stuttering Foundation President Jane Fraser. “As a person who stutters herself, Susannah has been of great help to us in reaching out with positive ideas and suggestions to teens and younger children who stutter. She is just plain terrific!”
“One of the highlights of my internship,” says Ms. Parkin, “has been working with Jane Fraser [named non-profit executive of the year in 2007]. The history of the Stuttering Foundation is the story of how one man made a lasting difference; that man was Jane’s father, Malcolm Fraser. Although Malcolm Fraser struggled with a significant stutter since childhood, he was a successful businessman, founding the Genuine Auto Parts Company in 1928 with his brother. In 1947, Malcolm Fraser founded the Stuttering Foundation with the hope that he could help others who stutter. Jane Fraser has been president of the Stuttering Foundation since 1981 and has diligently kept her father’s dream alive. Under her presidency the Stuttering Foundation’s endowment has grown, significantly. Many speech-language pathologists have participated in workshops about stuttering treatment, countless press releases have been sent out to raise public awareness about stuttering, and numerous books, videos, and brochures have been published for parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists, and children, teenagers, and adults who stutter. .”
Ms. Parkin, who has suffered from the disorder since the age of four, described her work for the foundation: “As an intern this summer, I had the opportunity to assist the Stuttering Foundation in several ways. One service the Stuttering Foundation provides is an extensive referral list of speech & language pathologists who work with people who stutter. Many concerned parents, frustrated teenagers, and adults contact the Stuttering Foundation for information about who can help them with stuttering, and since many speech-language pathologists do not have much experience in stuttering, the Stuttering Foundation’s US and international referral lists are treasured resources. One of my tasks this summer was to contact the speech-language pathologists on the referral list to verify their contact information. Maintaining the most up-to-date contact information on the referral list is important to the effectiveness of the referral system. Stuttering is not only a physical disorder of increased disfluencies, it can become emotional as well. That is, stuttering is often a silent, internal struggle in which the person who stutters associates intense fear, shame, guilt, or anxiety with stuttering. Therefore, many people who stutter are not willing to talk openly about their stuttering, so it is essential that the referral process and the first interactions go as smoothly as possible. I was uniquely qualified: in addition to being able to call the listed phone numbers to check the accuracy of all the listed information, I also observed the reactions the person on the other line has to my own stuttering. Since many people who use the Stuttering Foundation’s referral list are likely to stutter in that first phone call, it is important that whosoever is on the other line is a patient listener.
Making these phone calls also benefited me personally. People who stutter often learn to avoid certain situations, words, or sounds in fear that they will stutter. Although avoidance can bring temporary relief, it reinforces the fear in the long-term. The phone has never been particularly easy for me, especially when making calls to strangers or people whom I do not know well, so I tend to avoid it when possible. Making these many phone calls forced me to face this fear and gradually work to overcome it.
The Stuttering Foundation receives many emails every year from parents, children, teenagers, and adults expressing concern or frustration in regard to stuttering and asking for advice. I responded to several of these emails with links to some of the Stuttering Foundation’s excellent resources (many of which are available free online) as well as with my own personal experience and insights in stuttering. Since stuttering is often not talked about and many people who stutter have never met anyone else who stutters, people who stutter frequently feel alone in their struggle. Being able to talk to someone else who stutters – someone who knows what it is like – can be especially helpful. I often share my story and some of the strategies that I have learned in therapy (e.g., tell people that you stutter when you meet them, try not to avoid) in the hope that they will encourage the person to deal with stuttering in a positive manner.
In addition to managing the referral list and responding to emails, I also edited and proofed documents, verified the information in our database, and wrote thank you notes to magazines that run our public service announcements. I am learned so much about the behind the scenes work that goes into running a successful nonprofit including interacting with the media and professionalism in general. Before my internship I was not aware of how many resources there are for people who stutter and that the stuttering community is so accessible. This internship has given me valuable professional experience, but it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on stuttering and on myself. I owe a special thanks to Professor Paquette for introducing me to Jane and for everyone at the Stuttering Foundation for making this internship possible!”