ISTAR client-turned-volunteer giving back to children, youth and adults who stutter

Erin Johnson is spreading her message of hope when it comes to achieving fluency

Amanda McCarthy - 21 August 2019

Erin Johnson knows first-hand how important volunteers at ISTAR are-not just because she is one, but because she attended ISTAR as a young girl and the treatment has changed her life.

At the age of 10, Johnson received intensive therapy at the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) for a severe stutter. Now a successful manager in medical affairs for Alberta Health Services, she's giving back to the clinic that gave her the tools to succeed in her speech by sharing her experiences with current clients and their families.

"I reconnected with ISTAR a few years ago to do a tune-up and to further develop my skills," explains Johnson. "I was asked to take on a role as a volunteer and have been participating in past-client talks since 2017."

Meeting other clients and sharing her story of hope are now Johnson's favourite things about spending time at ISTAR.

"I'm honored to share my stuttering experience and what has helped me to maintain a comfortable level of fluency with my speech. I talk with parents and their children, youth and adults. I share my story of hope with people who stutter and their families to show them that the skills can work and fluency is possible. It has taken me a long time to accept my speech and to take back my power of communicating. Our world operates at a quick pace and speech can be rushed in many interactions. Taking back this power and sticking to my rate as I speak throughout the day has been a game changer. My message for all people who stutter is that you are worthy of the time and space to share your story and communicate with the world on your terms. Every voice truly does matter."

When she's not serving in the clinic, Johnson also donates her time to speech-language pathology students in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.

"It's important for the students to hear the lived experience of people who stutter. If they are going to be an advocate and partner for clients and families in their speech journey, it's imperative that they are aware of the potential struggles and situations their clients may face."

Now that Johnson has been able to maintain her speech, she is thankful for the opportunities at ISTAR, both as a client and as a volunteer.

"I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for ISTAR. The ability to communicate is vital to our everyday interactions-it really is a gift. I am so very thankful for my treatment and for my fantastic speech-language pathologist Shea who supports my maintenance. I would absolutely recommend people volunteer and help out in whichever way they can."