Published: March 20, 2018

Imagine being afraid to say your own name. For most people, the very idea is inconceivable, as foreign as worrying about tripping on the sidewalk. But for many of the over 3 million Americans who stutter, that fear is real: as real as their reluctance to use the telephone or their shame of being different from others.

Colorado Speaks is one of many campuswide summer residential and day-camp offerings.

Others programs are designed for budding scientists, aerospace engineers and musicians. Still more focus on leadership skill-building, the language and culture of ancient Rome, college preparation and more.

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Fortunately, there is help available for those who stutter. Life needn’t be an endless struggle to express oneself, nor each day a series of potential frustrations and embarrassments. CU Boulder’s Speech, Language and Hearing Center offers individual stuttering therapy for all ages, from preschoolers to college students to older adults. The center also offers a free, weekly support group for adults who stutter.

It's also launching Colorado Speaks, a free, weeklong day camp for teens who stutter that will be held on campus in June. The camp is the first of its kind in the state, created through an exciting collaboration between the CU Speech, Language and Hearing Center, Children’s Hospital, and Friends, a local nonprofit for children who stutter. After a successful pilot program last year, the camp is ready to welcome teens from across the state for a week of growth, connection and, most importantly, fun! 

About stuttering

Stuttering is a widely known but little understood speech disorder. After decades of research, we still don’t know the exact cause, but it is clear the brains of people who stutter process the intricate and rapid movements of speech differently than the brains of fluent speakers.

We also know stuttering tends to run in families, affects up to 10 percent of young children and is seen much more often in males than females. Add to that the fact that stuttering can be highly variable—showing up conspicuously in one situation while vanishing in another—and you have a disorder that is often as perplexing to listeners as it is to people who stutter themselves.

The center’s fluency clinic is supervised by Ryan Pollard, CCC-SLP. Pollard, a person who stutters himself, utilizes a comprehensive approach to treatment that recognizes stuttering is often more than meets the eye—or the ear.

The negative consequences of speaking differently, such as shame, frustration and isolation, can often be more limiting than the things most of us notice when talking to people who stutter: the repeated sounds, broken speech and visible struggle to get a word out. These mental and physical barriers to communication impact individuals differently, so treatment is tailored to help each client learn to better cope with his or her own unique speech challenges.

Over the course of therapy, clients learn there may not yet be a cure for stuttering, but it can be managed like any other chronic condition; and even if some disfluency remains, they can still be very effective communicators.

Perhaps at no other time of life can stuttering be more of an obstacle than in adolescence. Stuttering can negatively impact a teen’s self-esteem and confidence and can make social interaction even more difficult. Everyday situations such as speaking up in class, ordering food or asking a store clerk a question are rarely given a second thought by most teens, but they can be avoided like the plague if you’re a teen who happens to stutter.

In recent years, several summer camps around the country have been developed to help young people build their communication skills and connect with others who understand what they’re going through. Now such a camp is coming to CU Boulder.