29th November 2016 – Blog – A glimpse into the lives of two men with a stammer
How unpredictable it is to have a stammer was one aspect that came across during my glimpse into the lives of two men who came to speech and language therapist Steph Burgess for support.
One day you can wake up and the words flow freely, yet on another you get stuck on often the same letters, words or numbers.
The two men which I’m going to refer to as Ben and Ralph probably have very different lifestyles, one is much older than the other, but having a stammer means they have lots in common and find it extremely helpful to share things with a buddy that understands.
Both said they had struggled academically at school and would never put up their hands to answer a question in case they couldn’t get their words out. One solution a teacher came up with was to write the answer down or to shout it out straight away without waiting to be asked. Ben eventually was told he was likely to be dyslexic. Steph offered to find out how he could get a proper diagnosis and some help.
Ben had recently been to an interview and had discovered feedback from one of the interviewers was that he thought he had been ‘stoned’ – even though he had let them know beforehand of his speech impediment. The British Stammering Association does provide a useful guide to help https://www.stammering.org/speaking-out/articles/dreaded-job-interview-secret-tips-employer-people-who-stammer candidates. All interviewers need to realise people are more likely to stammer when they are angry, anxious, nervous or scared – even though for most of the time they talk without doing so – as it strongly related to your emotions. Ben described it as an incredible build up of tension your throat and your chest closes up preventing speech. It is such a powerful feeling that once when a gym teacher put him on the spot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time he actually passed out and fell to the floor. Other incidents of acute embarrassment he talked about was not being able to say which number pump he had used at a petrol station and struggling to say his destination when buying a ticket on the bus as a queue started to form behind him.
Ralph was about to start a new job that afternoon which is particularly daunting for anyone with a stammer. He said the harder he tries not to stammer, the more often he does it. You can’t hide it and need to learn to live with it. The best way to do that is to take every opportunity to let people know about your stammer. It’s about accepting its part of who I am, he said. Ralph never stammers when talking to young children as they usually accept people as they are so he doesn’t worry what they think. Both men agreed with Katherine Preston, author of ‘Out With It’, who concludes they would be very different people if they didn’t stammer and sees it in a positive light. It can give you a better understanding of others and difficulties they face and certainly increases your patience.
Steph, whose specialism is stammering, explained it’s very important to be confident and keep talking even if you stammer. The worst thing you can do is simply shut up so that your views are not heard. It’s vital to practice and persevere. Some people can hide their stammer very successfully by avoiding particular words they struggle with – but that must be so exhausting having to continually rethink before words come out of your mouth. You need to switch off that little voice that pipes up in your head – ‘you can’t say that word’ and use techniques to practice them. One of her clients had a poster that said ‘no words are scary’ and he repeated this daily until he actually believed it. After initial sessions which can focus on understanding the mechanics of speech – the most important thing I need to work with is ‘what is stammering stopping my clients from doing?’
Both men said that they found it harder to admit to someone from the opposite sex that they stammer. I never could get a girlfriend at school said Ben as I was too preoccupied with trying to impress which I though was impossible with a stammer. However, next month they will have a new opportunity to tackle this as they join a group that meet at Coronation Hospital in Ilkley which has been women-only until now.
Steph, employed by Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, will be leading a joint venture next year with the British Stammering Association funded by the Health Foundation to pilot a telemedicine service to provide who live all over the country but find it difficult to get help with sessions in their own home via video link.