Program helps young children and teens who stutter

A new program helps young children and teens who stutter. FOX 29's Karen Hepp has the story.

PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) Jaxson Hoey is really fast.  He's a champion who has cranked out a 4:11 mile. 

He's so good he just got a scholarship to Penn State. The running is the easy part for him, but for years he dreaded post-race interviews.

As fast as his legs move, so does his mind, and that means just he can't always get the words out the way he wants to.

"I put a ton of pressure and expectations on myself if I was talking to people and I saw them getting uncomfortable that was really hard for me or losing people's attention that was difficult too," Jaxson explained.

Jaxson was eight years old when he first met with a doctor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"He said do you know you're child stutters tears started welling up in my eyes, it's hard when it's your own flesh and blood and you don't want to see them struggle and have to come to reality they're going to struggle for the rest of their lives," Joey's mother Leslee recalled.

Many kids grow out of stuttering, but since it's neurologically based, it can run in families, and affects more boys than girls.

"It's genetically transferred, it's no one's fault, just like what color hair you have,  or how tall you are going to be, it's just part of your genetic makeup," Dr. Joseph Donaher explained.

Dr. Donaher runs an intensive week long summer camp at CHOP for children who stutter.

At the camp kids learn to relax, and embrace who they are to grow confidence.

"The biggest enemy is often in their own head, and the things they worry about. They worry about what might happen. Kids might make fun of me. Kids might not listen to me. People may think I'm not smart," Dr. Donaher explained.

Trying to hide a stutter, can make it worse- the secret is not trying to fix it, but, learn to accept it and be a good communicator.

This camp was game changer for Jaxson.

"I felt like the first thing that needed to happen was that I was okay with the fact that I was a stutterer," Jaxson explained.

But, it' doesn't have to define or limit you.

At the camp, kids are asked to finish the sentence, "If I didn't stutter, kids are asked to fill in the blank- I'd…"

Whatever they think is impossible, like maybe being an actor.

They're shown hugely successful stars who've succeeded, like James Earl Jones, and Samuel L. Jackson, singers like Elvis and  Ed Sheeran, and athletes like Eagle Darren Sproles, Shaquille O'Neal, and Tiger Woods, and even politicians like Vice President Joe Biden and King George VI, who's story was made famous in the movie "The King's Speech."

Over the week, the children from all different backgrounds and ages bond, by smiling, laughing, and talking.

Camp changed Jaxson's life, and he's always excited to come back and share.

"If you are comfortable with being a stutterer I think that other people will become comfortable with it too," Jaxson explained.

Jaxson is finding his voice in so many ways, and he even got a solo in the school choir.

Jaxson graduated in June, and wants to study entrepreneurship, and will keep running, with his family, for his school and for himself, chasing dreams on and off the track.

"Recognize your gifts. Do what you were made to do with those gifts," Jaxson said.

If you'd like to find out more about the program at CHOP visit their website: CHOP Stuttering Program

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