Last Updated on April 25, 2022 6:54 am
BOONE, N.C. — Approximately 5% to 10% of children stutter during their childhood — though most outgrow the condition. However, for about 1% of the population, the communication disorder persists, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Thanks to a generous donation from Appalachian State University alumnus Dr. Ed Rankin ’79 and his wife, Thuy Le, support is on the way for adolescents who stutter — through a planned speech therapy camp to be held annually on the App State campus, beginning in summer 2023. It will be North Carolina’s only residential, intensive summer camp of its kind.
Rankin's two children, now in their 30s, both exhibited some disfluency in their early speech. He shared, “For most children, this speech problem seems to go away on its own. For others, like my children, it can become a very troubling social development and communication challenge.”
While Rankin sought help for his children from speech therapists near their home in Dallas, Texas, he said the breakthrough for their daughter came when she was a teenager, after she attended a five-day stutter management program at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
“Her experience was life-changing,” Rankin said. “She learned to accept herself as a person who stutters and discovered many techniques to help her more successfully navigate communication with others and manage her stuttering.”
A couple of years ago, Rankin — who is the president of the App State alumni chapter in Dallas — met Carey Fissel, development director for the College of Arts and Sciences, when she visited an alumni event in Dallas. He shared with her his daughter’s experience with the speech therapy camp, and said he thought App State would be a perfect place to implement a similar program.
Fissel connected Rankin with App State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and “all the pieces fell together,” Rankin said.
“I could not be more grateful to Ed Rankin and Thuy Le, who are choosing to pay it forward by providing a supportive and fun experience for children and teens who stutter,” said Dr. Marie Huff, dean of App State’s Beaver College of Health Sciences. “Having a stuttering disorder can be an isolating experience, and this camp can help participants to feel less alone while they gain additional coping skills.”
She added, “Nothing is more satisfying than being able to match donors with their passion for making a difference. This initiative will elevate the health and the quality of life in our region while also training new health practitioners.”
Plans for camp
App State's planned summer camp for people who stutter will be designed for adolescents ages 11–16 and will incorporate both individual and group sessions, said Dr. Joe Klein, licensed speech pathologist and associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
“Stuttering can become increasingly challenging during the teen years,” Klein said. The condition may lead to feelings of embarrassment, anxiety and fear of speaking — and can have a negative impact on the individual’s personal life, academic performance and occupational achievement, he added.
The camp, staffed by App State graduate student clinicians in the university’s speech-language pathology program, faculty and licensed speech-language pathologists, is designed to work on managing moments of stuttering, increasing fluency and decreasing negative attitudes about stuttering.
Initially, the camp will accommodate 10 campers for the one-week session, with the opportunity to expand in future years.
“It will provide campers a positive experience with communicating,” Klein said. “The children will meet peers who stutter, and together they will work with therapists to lessen the possible negative impacts of stuttering.”
App State alumnus Dr. Ed Rankin ’79, right, and his wife, Thuy Le, of Dallas, Texas, contributed funds to launch a camp for adolescents who stutter, to be held annually on the App State campus beginning summer 2023. They are pictured in front of App State’s Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences. Photo by Chase Reynolds