A week ago today I stood up and talked about my personal experiences as a person who stammers, and the valuable work of the British Stammering Association. The occasion was the weekly Monday evening meal of the Rotary Club of Leighton-Linslade, to which I had been invited as guest speaker. The Club made me very welcome, and proved to be a good audience for my talk, laughing in the right places and asking some pertinent questions (“What’s the difference between a stammer and a stutter?” Answer: none, woops I meant to mention that in the talk!)
This talk marked the first time I have spoken to a group about this most personal of afflictions, though I have at various points discussed my stammer with individual friends, family, colleagues, and occasionally virtual strangers.
I related the anguish I experienced when asking for a job behind the bar as a school leaver. How I got stuck each time I asked if there was work available, and ended up in tears and unsuccessful.
And I recounted my life-changing experience of group speech therapy at the QE Hospital (new QE), Birmingham as a 20 year old student. This intensive 5-6 month therapy followed the modified Van Riper method, and included steps where I studied a video of myself stammering, I discussed the hidden pain and frustration I felt with my stammer, and where I practiced voluntary stammering with complete strangers. (Yes, stammering on purpose is scary. It’s one of many things some of the 375,000 people in Britain and the millions around the world try.) The therapy allowed me to finally start accepting and understanding my condition.
I found the experience of giving this talk self-affirming, and the feedback from the audience was that they found it useful and interesting. I hope to give more similar talks soon.
My top 10 dos and don’ts if you should meet someone who stammers
- Don’t panic! I know it looks a bit off-putting/weird.
- Don’t “ignore”/ look at the person next to me,
- Don’t guess or try to finish my sentence, please,
- Don’t interrupt - I may be about to come out of a block,
- Don’t say “relax”, “take a deep breath” etc.,
- Do appear patient, - even if there is a queue of customers behind me,
- Do say “it’s OK”,
- Maintain eye-contact,
- Perhaps try to help, after a while - if it looks like I’m tiring! (Some people with stammers may not take kindly to this, no matter how tired they look!)
- Ask/ talk! – teachers may like to ask children who stammer how they can help, but you should accept that young people (and older people) may not be comfortable acknowledging their stammer.