ISTAR experience provides precious confidence booster to young girl struggling with speech issues

After immigrating from Moldova, Magdalena Manoli and her family are deeply grateful for the program that supported her during a time of upheaval.

Sasha Roeder Mah - 10 February 2023

When Magdalena Manoli and her family moved to Edmonton from Moldova four years ago, the then eight-year-old was a bright, sensitive little girl excited about the new life ahead of her. But it wasn’t long before her mother Corina began to notice changes in Magda — she was nervous about going to school and was having some trouble with her speech, a situation that was exacerbated by the bullying she was experiencing at school.

After moving her to several different schools and attempting to get support within the school system for Magda’s speech issues, Corina discovered the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. With some funding support from the ISTAR client-assistance program and Albertan members of the Elks of Canada — longtime supporters of ISTAR — the family was able to access programming for Magda that has seen her blossom into a more confident, outgoing child who is thriving socially and achieving better academic results at school.

Magda, now 12 years old, was so excited about her experiences with ISTAR that she wanted to share her story.

What made you and your family decide to try ISTAR?

We came to Canada on Oct. 27, 2018, all the way from Moldova! When we came here it was very hard for me to understand everything. I didn't want to tell my parents about my problems because they were struggling. I was struggling with my speech for about three years, and in Grade 6 I got bullied a lot for my speech. It made me feel insecure. I would be too nervous to ask a question, or to even raise my hand up and answer the teacher’s questions. I would mostly stay quiet and not say a word.

What was it like when you first started at ISTAR?

I started therapy in November 2021. When it was my first assessment, I was nervous and shy. It was my first time meeting Ms. Holly (Holly Lomheim, clinic director at ISTAR). But as I got to know her better and she got to know me more I felt more comfortable around her. After my assessment, my parents applied for funding support. I was very happy when someone accepted to help me, because my parents were struggling.

What kinds of activities did you do at ISTAR?

I did therapy for almost a year. It was AMAZING. Some classes we played games, other ones we mostly practised my speech, but my most favourite one was when we did presentations. That activity just made me feel more excited and meeting new staff members was so cool. Some of the people that work at ISTAR are still in university and it was really awesome to meet them.

Pretty soon, as I started to work more on my speech I started to trust in myself and stopped caring what people said about me. I practised my speech every day, every week and now I have come along so far! I am not insecure about my speech anymore and I feel more confident to speak around new people.

Magda and her family. Photo supplied.What did you do during your summer camp?

March was my last month of therapy online. When it was over, Ms. Holly invited me to an in-person therapy camp (an intensive clinic for teens that takes place in July). It is amazing and they do it every summer. I went to the camp for about an hour a day for a week, and I was the only kid there who had done speech therapy already. On the first day, we did a presentation and I was nervous in front of people that I didn't know. All my therapy had been online before. One other day, a teacher who had issues with stuttering came to tell us about his experiences and we read a story. Near the end, we all prepared presentations to share on the last day.

What are your happiest memories from the camp?

My mom and dad both came for my final presentation, which made me extra nervous. What if my dad took a video of me and posted it on Facebook? That would be so embarrassing! But when it was my turn I got up and I had to present to almost 40 people. Even though I started off by going super fast, I noticed it and made myself slow down. Afterwards, we got to have pizza!

Anything else you’d like to say about ISTAR and your experience?

This was the greatest year I could ask for. Having the best therapy teacher and getting invited to the summer camp were amazing! I am so happy and honoured that I got to come to ISTAR.

I want to thank Ms. Holly for teaching me and helping me improve my speech. Thank you for playing those awesome games with me and doing fun activities. Thank you for helping me face my fear of doing presentations. Thank you so much for making me feel more comfortable. Thank you ISTAR for this amazing experience!

ISTAR is heavily reliant upon donors. Any gift will help others access training that is potentially life-transforming.

Donate today and give the gift of speech.