photo of Jane Fraser '64

Help for stutterers, public awareness

Jane Fraser '64 heads the Stuttering Foundation of America, the nation's largest resource of its kind. Based in Memphis, the SFA promotes the prevention of stuttering in children and effective treatment for teen-agers and adults.

The current grand scope of the SFA hints little at its humble beginnings-which Fraser knew intimately. Her father, who stuttered, started the foundation when Fraser was just 5 years old, hoping to solve the riddle of stuttering not only for himself but for others as well. "He had just decided, Iwant to get on top of this problem," says Fraser. "And what better way to do it than to bring in professors who are knowledgeable, bring in the experts who know the most about stuttering?"

And so the foundation's early years consisted mainly of week-long conferences featuring speech therapists, neurologists and researchers at the forefront of stuttering studies. "That was the real inoculation for me," Fraser says, "spending that amount of time with those brilliant people."

For much of her adult life, Fraser was involved with linguistics of a different sort. After majoring in Russian at Bryn Mawr, she moved to Paris and found work there with the American Field Service head office. She later worked as an interpreter at the Assemblée Nationale and then as a translator, she edited medical data from French to English for a prominent radiologist. "And all the while," she says, "those conferences on stuttering carried on under my dad's leadership."

Fraser eventually began editing books for the SFA. Finally in 1981 she accepted her father's invitation to become its president, attracted by the leadership opportunities that her translating career did not offer. In the years since, the foundation's endowment has grown from $3,000,000 to $17,000,000.

While remaining true to her father's vision, Fraser embarked on an extensive public awareness campaign. She established a tollfree hotline which now handles an average of 30,000 calls a year. The SFA website receives about 100,000 hits a year-a fact that doesn't surprise Fraser, since many people who stutter find talking on the phone daunting. In addition, the SFA publishes 24 books and 13 brochures on stuttering. Titles include "If You Think Your Child Is Stuttering," which explains the difference between normal speech development and stuttering in the young child; "How to React When Speaking With Someone Who Stutters," which lets readers know how to put stutterers they are speaking with at ease; "Self-Therapy for the Stutterer," written for the adult who is unable to take advantage of clinical treatment; "The Child Who Stutters: To the Family Physician," explaining to medical doctors the differences between normal disfluency and stuttering; and several Spanish and French translations, too. Videotapes such as "Do You Stutter: Straight Talk for Teens" and "The School-Age Child Who Stutters: Working Effectively With Attitudes and Emotions" are also available.

In the future, Fraser hopes to produce interactive materials. "Challenges right now are trying to apply technology to what we're already doing to make our products more effective in helping people," she says. "We're always looking at new ways to get the message to people that there is wonderful help for stuttering."

The SFA continues training professionals, too. "Stuttering really requires more than just your basic speech pathology training," Fraser insists. "We're so anxious to create a pool of experts in stuttering." Symposia, workshops and educational conferences convene throughout the year in various locations. The training has an international scope, drawing attendees from countries as far flung as Jordan and New Zealand. "We give them the tools they need to set up their own stuttering groups when they go back to their own countries," says Fraser. "It's really a very broad reach that we have now."

Fraser credits Bryn Mawr with playing "an astounding role" in her accomplishments. Fortunate for all those affected by stuttering, Fraser thinks being held "to the highest possible standards is utterly important."

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