24-year-old Hannah Sysak went to ISTAR to receive treatment. While she came out with a repository of valuable speech tactics that now allow her to use her voice, she also left with the drive to help others like herself. (Photo: Craig Soars)
Since the age of eight, Hannah Sysak has known first-hand what it’s like to not be able to use her voice.
She, like more than 300,000 other Canadians, has a stutter.
But there’s something special about Hannah. Not only has she been a client at the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR), she’s also been a volunteer—using her personal knowledge to help those still taking part in stuttering programs.
And to give back to the institute that gave her a voice.
“I started treatment at ISTAR when I was 15,” explains Hannah. “My father’s cousin was doing her placement as a speech-language pathologist at the institute and she recommended it to us. I had been getting some treatment from a local speech therapist in my hometown, but it wasn’t as intensive as ISTAR.”
Hannah received treatment at ISTAR on-and-off until she was 21. Now 24, she is using her newly minted speech tactics to help out where she can.
“When I finished my therapy, I knew I still wanted to be involved with ISTAR somehow. That’s when I got into volunteering.”
As a volunteer, Hannah was able to use her experience with stuttering to help other clients bolster their skills and become better communicators by assisting them with their speech exercises.
“One of my volunteering duties was to help clients practice their phone skills. So I would be on one end and they would be on the other, and we would go through different phone scenarios,” said Hannah.
“It’s really cool being able to see a client talk one month and then see how far they’ve come in the next month. You can really hear the difference. You can see that it makes an impact.”
With Hannah going through therapy herself, and then witnessing the change in other clients’ speech, it was all she needed to take the next step in having a bigger impact in the lives of those with speech challenges—enrolling in the MSc Speech-Language Pathology program in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine for the 2018 year.
“Being someone who received speech therapy myself and knowing how debilitating it can be, and how great it feels when you can finally speak, I want to do that for someone else—I want to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Especially if that someone happens to be an ISTAR client.
“I’d like to go back to ISTAR someday, at the end of my degree. But this time, I want to be the one helping clients find their voices.”