Laughter's Voice: An Ontario summer camp for children who stutter
- Category: Parent's Blog
- Published: Sunday, 01 December 2013 11:19
- Written by Andrea Skinner
UPDATE: Laughter's voice camp is postponed until 2015. See the website
Two years ago, my son Felix (pictured at left) was nine years old and developing an increasingly pronounced stutter. Ever since he could speak, he would go through months of relatively fluent speech, followed by weeks of severe disfluency. I wasn’t worried. I focused on what he had to say, not on how he was saying it. But one day at the library, Felix got stuck on a word and couldn’t ask for a title of a book. This kid, who has always arranged his own play dates by phone and once called Canada’s top Olympic Archery coach to ask about lessons, cried and asked me for help. I knew then that I’d been denying how much Felix’s stutter was affecting him.
We had a dilemma. On the one hand, Felix’s speech was beautiful the way it was. I wanted Felix to know that. On the other hand, I wanted him to have the option of saying words when and how he wanted to say them. I wanted him to increase his fluency, if possible. My solution was to start him in speech therapy to expand his options, to learn what could be, and at the same time, send him to camp where he could be himself, without any modification.
The only camp in Canada that I could find for kids who stutter (that was not a speech therapy camp) was Camp BCAPS (British Columbia Association for People who Stutter). It was a long trip from Ontario, but it was everything I hoped it would be. Though Felix had attended several schools, he had never met another human being who stuttered, and Camp BCAPS was filled with kids and grown-ups who either stuttered or had had exposure to stuttering. Felix connected easily with the other children without having to explain himself, or, as he put it, apologize. The speech language pathologists (SLPs) who organized the games and talks on stuttering really brought the activities to life, and linked the camp in a subtle way to the fact that help is out there. One SLP in particular took a special interest in Felix, and while I was busy reminding him to raise his hand before speaking and to give others a turn, she gave him her megaphone! The confidence boost he got from the camp experience had a ripple effect on his (and our family’s) life far beyond those few sunny days. Before he went to BCAPS, I was afraid the stutter was the result of a deep insecurity, a doubt at the root of Felix’s soul. After BCAPS, I saw his stuttering as just one more thing he does. If there is an emotional component for him, it is the intensity of his wish to connect with others – the leap at the root of his soul.
Very soon after we got back from British Columbia, Felix gave a talk to his sister’s grade 5 class on stuttering, in order to pave the way for future stutterers those kids might meet! He cited statistics, told the kids about tools that can increase fluency, and really got their attention when he gave examples of being misunderstood and laughed at by adults. Sure enough, he was the only kid they’d ever met who stuttered, and he was excited to help them understand something new.
A camp for kids who stutter in Ontario
Felix wanted an Ontario version of BCAPS, to attend each year! He thought “someone” (that would be me) should put it together, but I didn’t know where to begin... until I met Drew Gulyas and Hilary Smith, Camp Directors at the Mansfield Outdoor Centre. Drew and Hilary run a French immersion camp that Felix attended (and loved, as did my daughter), and when Felix had some problems with his cabin mates, I was amazed at how sensitive and creative Drew was in helping him. I felt that Drew had just the right sensibility to run a camp for kids who stutter, and mentioned the idea. He didn’t need convincing. He was instantly enthusiastic. As a former director of a camp for kids with cancer, he understands that though all children have struggles and every child is unique, a certain power emerges when children who share a specific vulnerability come together.
Felix came up with the name “Laughter’s Voice” to express that free, powerful feeling that camp gave him, and my hope is to recreate the supportive environment of Camp BCAPS. One thing we decided to do differently from Camp BCAPS is to leave parents and siblings at home! For this first year at least, we want to emphasize the independence that can come about safely for kids at camp, maybe for the first time for some.
By the way, Felix has still never met another person in Ontario who stutters. He’s hoping to meet lots next summer!
Where: Mansfield Outdoor Centre, Mansfield, Ontario (within 2 hours’ drive of most of the GTA)
When: July 13-19, 2014
What: Laughter’s Voice is a residential summer camp for kids ages 6-18 who stutter. In the format of traditional summer camp, kids will enjoy swimming, archery, horseback riding, drama and crafts. Although no formal speech therapy will be offered during camp, we intend to invite speech language pathologists- in-training (with one licensed supervisor) to be present to discuss various aspects of stuttering through games and informal conversation. A celebration of the voice and expression will be inherent in the singing, acting, story-telling, shouting, and laughing of camp life.
Cost: The Mansfield Outdoor Centre is offering a 10% reduction in camp fees per child. As a result, the cost to parents is $540 for the week.