Friends-the Association for Young People Who Stutter

by Lee Caggiano
from New York, USA

Founded in 1997, Friends has become the largest national organization created to provide a network of support solely for young people who stutter, their families and the professionals who work with them.

Friends is a non-profit, volunteer organization founded by John Ahlbach, an adult who stutters and the past director of the National Stuttering Project and Lee Caggiano, a mother of a teen who stutters and a Speech-Language Pathologist specializing in stuttering.

Painfully aware of the urgent need of support for young people and their parents, and of the paucity of available services, Friends was founded to provide this much needed support. Years of personal and professional involvement in the self-help/support movement have allowed us to create a compassionate, knowledgeable and empowering organization that reaches over 2500 people.

REACHING OUT - Our monthly publication is comprised of reflections, articles, essays, drawings, and information about growing with stuttering. Different voices fill the pages of Reaching Out: young people who stutter, parents, adults who stutter, clinicians, teachers, and siblings. Receiving a monthly newsletter provides young people and their parents with a continual reassurance that they are not alone. Articles from Reaching Out are being used as teaching resources in speech pathology classes and in therapy tools throughout the country.

E-MAIL PEN PAL LIST - Our Friends e-mail pen pal list is a fun way to keep in touch with friends met at the conventions/workshops, and a great way to make new friends. Although only in existence for the past year, our young members have stayed in close contact throughout the year. The e-mail group continues to grow as new members are included.

WEBSITE- - Our website provides online articles from Reaching Out, latest news links and online articles related to stuttering, listing of upcoming national Friends events, information on membership and ordering Friends materials.

CLASSROOM PRESENTATION KITS - Young people can become teachers of stuttering, instead of victims, presenting stuttering in a positive way in their classrooms. A Friends poster of contemporary famous people who stutter, postcards displaying a famous person who stutters and his/her message to young people, a stuttering fact sheet and sample copies of Reaching are distributed to every child who request it.

PARENT ADVOCACY COMMITTEE - The Parent Advocacy Committee was established to help parents with issues that are a concern to many, such as effective therapy and therapists, therapy within the school setting, and insurance coverage. The committee also organizes parents who are interested in helping at state conventions at the Friends exhibition table, educating others about stuttering and the need for support. This is a wonderfully empowering experience. Our Parent Advocacy Committee recently drafted and distributed a letter to ASHA regarding our disapproval of the recent reduction of required fluency courses for graduate schools.

REGIONAL COORDINATORS - This network allows new parents to connect with other parents in their regional area. The coordinators provide an opportunity for parents to share experiences, ideas, and concerns.

WORKSHOPS/ANNUAL CONVENTION - One-day workshops and annual three-day convention allow young people, their families and clinicians to truly share their experiences in living with stuttering. Children's workshops are offered focusing on stuttering related topics as well as social activities. Workshops for parents and professionals are led by experts in the field of stuttering: (adults who stutter, parents and professionals). Watching young children become comfortable with their stuttering, talking and laughing about stuttering, and sharing their feelings is inspirational. Young people slowly reach out to each other, parents begin to openly share their feelings, and offer hope to each other. Children and parents leave the FRIENDS convention with feelings of hope and empowerment. The following comments best describe the experiences.. '"This is the fist time I have ever felt normal" 8 year old boy "a group of people coming together to support.. to educate" mother "self-help for parents" SLP "This is the best day of my life" 10 year old girl "In terms of focusing on kids and teens this is the cutting edge" PWS "Before this convention I never knew how much he hurt" dad "Anytime stutterers get together, good stuff happens" PWS Children and families from around the world continue to feel isolated and helpless, searching for others who are living with stuttering to share their struggles and triumphs with. At the Friends convention this August we had a family from India join us; and last year a mom traveled from Singapore to join a New York Friends workshop. We need to continue reaching out to these childrenā as there are still so many who live alone with their stuttering.

You can post Questions/comments to the panel before October 22, 2000.

September 15, 2000