Speak out: ISTAR helps clients and speech students

Holly Gray - 01 December 2010

Walid Omairi used to introduce himself as 'Vinchenzo.' But he wasn't playing a trick or trying to be funny. The 17-year-old had a stuttering impediment so severe, he was forced to avoid using certain words, including his own name.

But now Omairi has his confidence (and his name) back thanks to an intensive three-week program at the world-class Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR), a division of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Omairi says he can't believe what a long way he's come since beginning treatment at ISTAR.

"I can remember five weeks ago standing in the airport, begging my brother to order a bottle of water for me because I was so terrified to speak to other people," he says. "Although this sounds hard on my brother, he wouldn't order it for me. He was just trying to get me to attempt speaking, rather than avoid the situation. Ultimately, I waited to get on the plane and pointed at the water when the steward was serving drinks."

ISTAR prides itself on its goal of helping those with speech impediments become the best communicators possible-for them to be able to say exactly what they want to say, when and wherever they want to say it. Now Omairi has the tools to help himself overcome the simplest challenges that fluent speakers take for granted, such as ordering food and beverages. And he's not the only one; countless courageous individuals from around the world have travelled to ISTAR to take control of their speech impediments since it was first established in 1986.

Emily Wheeler, a graduate from the speech-language pathology program at the U of A's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, completed a one month intensive clinic practicum at the institute and says it was "inspiring working with clients at ISTAR."

"Overall, my experience at ISTAR was extremely rewarding," she smiles."The best part was seeing the transformation each client underwent in terms of their confidence as a speaker. Shy clients were suddenly telling stories and cracking jokes. It was just amazing to see personalities shine through as clients began to believe in their ability to use their fluency skills."

Wheeler, now a working speech-language pathologist with Alberta Health Services, said she would highly recommend ISTAR as a clinical placement for future students.

"I am very grateful I had the opportunity to meet the wonderful and supportive staff at ISTAR, from whom I learned so much," she says. "Upon completing this practicum I was much more confident in my understanding of stuttering, as well as my clinical abilities to assess and work with clients who stutter."

ISTAR is a non-profit, Edmonton-based centre of excellence that offers specialized treatment to children, teens, and adults with speech impediments. Treatment is delivered in a variety of intensive and non-intensive formats. The institute also conducts ground-breaking stuttering research, offers advanced professional training for speech-language pathology students and clinicians, and promotes public awareness of stuttering and its treatment. ISTAR has received generous support from the Alberta Elks Association and the Alberta Royal Purple Lodges Association since its inception, and is the only treatment facility of its kind in North America.

Omairi celebrated his graduation from ISTAR's intensive treatment program by doing a TV interview for Global News. "Just a month ago, I would never have thought I'd be standing in front of you doing a speech," he said in his speech at the ISTAR graduation ceremony, "Now I'm about to do an interview for TV!" he grinned.

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.