As an intern with no knowledge of stuttering or speech pathology in general, my first instinct upon learning of the intensive taking place was to stay far, far away. When I had to walk through the group, whether they were playing games, joking around or being educated about their stuttering, I would zip through as quickly as possible, terrified that I would interrupt the comfortable, easy vibe of the group that was so palpable. I feared I would make the clients uncomfortable, or annoyed, or distracted.
Although I busied myself with other office-related work, each time I walked by and heard a bit of the intensive’s conversation, I had more questions about stuttering, which I would quietly ask Bridget. My curiosity grew the more I observed; who were these brave people that chose to take three weeks out of their summers to work on their stuttering? Where did they come from? I was fascinated. This group of speech pathologists, interns, and clients was entirely indistinguishable; I later learned that only 4 members of the group were clients, and I was shocked. I learned that in many activities, both clients and interns alike participate in voluntary stuttering, which is exactly what it sounds like- intentionally stuttering on words to release tension on words that one would actually stutter on. Each of the four members of the intensive seemed so interesting, but I was disappointed I would not get to know them.
Then, one quiet afternoon in the office, I felt as though I could slowly begin to decode the mystery that was the AIS intensive: I was invited to play Taboo with the interns and clients. I accepted and tentatively joined the circle, scanning the faces quickly for any “what is she doing here?” looks (thankfully, everyone seemed to find it totally acceptable that I was joining).
Throughout the game, I found it hard to balance participating in the game (everyone in the intensive is an extremely competitive Taboo player and I was expected to follow suit) and observing the atmosphere. I found myself envying the closeness of the group and longed to be part of a similar environment. Additionally, I had my first experience with voluntary stuttering, an exercise that is much harder than it looks. As a person who is used to intentionally speaking clearly, creating a stutter was tiring. On my first turn in the game, I was so wrapped up in getting the most points that I forgot to use the voluntary stutter. A client then informed me that if I didn’t stutter, I would have points deducted off of my turn. Getting into the spirit of the game, I knew this simply could not happen. So, on my next turn, I voluntarily stuttered and was showered with encouragement from both clients and interns. I smiled proudly, feeling like I had just been let into a special club: I was one of them! I later learned that the challenging act of voluntary stuttering was only one of the many exercises that AIS encourages its clients to use. Soon, I was well-versed in the AIS lingo; I learned that stutterers should use prolongations, maintain eye contact throughout conversations, and most importantly, that AIS wants to minimize stutterers’ fear of communication and instill confidence in speech.
By the way, here’s a little information about me: my name is Becky Weinberg, I’m 18 years old, and I am about to start my Freshman year of college at Johns Hopkins University. For years, I have heard my grandfather, Sander Flaum, spea highly of AIS. I have heard countless stories from the highly anticipated Annual Gala and have learned how wonderful the team here is. A stutterer himself, my grandfather is extremely proud to be involved with AIS and I feel so lucky to have gotten to experience the community he so dearly cherishes. A summer that was once going to be filled with frivolous activity and a general laziness before I set off to school became one that was intellectually and personally enriching. Please stay tuned for my next post about more of my experiences during the July intensive!