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Knowledge, Science, Perspectives

Living With A Stammer

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Rowan Ellett

My parents once told me that I started to stammer when I was three or four years old. I am now 20. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve felt that every word I want to say won’t come out. It’s frustrating to say the least. From faltering at the punchline of a joke to not being able to answer the question in class that no one else knew, having a stammer has affected me in many ways. There are some days I just want to hide away from everything and everyone because my speech isn’t good enough to even string a sentence together.

I study journalism at Falmouth University and I have now started my third and final year. The degree is a mix of written and practical assessments. The practical elements include ‘Piece to Cameras’ (PTCs), interviewing people using video equipment and recording voiceovers that will feature on the video or podcast you’re working on. Speaking in front of a camera or recording a radio piece is sometimes a long process for me. I find it takes much more time because I am continually stopping part way through, unhappy with my speech. For someone with a stammer, editing is a lifesaver: I can cut my stammer out, as if it never happened.

Stammering is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I think about it every day, there is always a small niggling thought in the back of my mind. The stammer wants to be in control and I am the only one who can make the choice to say no to it.

I have tried three speech therapy techniques. These involved speaking slow, soft starts and also osteopathy. In August 2010, my parents discovered The Starfish Project, which offers supportive training to people who stammer and provides a well-tested breathing technique that has been giving people a voice since 1998. Project founder Anne Blight, alongside her husband David, wants to ensure that everyone who attends a course, however old they are, puts the effort in and makes sure they listen to returning refreshers who have been told the technique already. Refreshers are stammerers who come back after their first course to either ‘refresh’ their technique or teach what they learnt to a new person.

Having a stammer is odd, you never know how fluent your talking will be. That is how I felt before Starfish. Nowadays, I can have complete control of my own speech. This gives me the freedom to do what I like; starting conversations with people I meet, asking in a shop if they have that new item of clothing I want, or ordering a meal in my favourite restaurant. This ‘speech control’ I’m talking of doesn’t just happen at the click of my fingers, I have to work hard for it. That means practising the technique every day. Whenever I open my mouth to talk, I should incorporate everything I’ve been taught to do.

There are many people around the world who have a stammer, with 1% of adults living with the speech impediment. Many are so-called ‘covert stammerers’, the people who will do absolutely anything to make it easy for them to talk or get out of speaking situations. They will be selective with their words and say sentences that won’t trouble them. I saw myself as a covert stammerer too. But today I don’t.
I love talking because it gives you a platform to express your feelings and opinions. A stammer means there are obstacles that pop up with my speech and it is upsetting when I find myself stuck and not able to say anything. This still happens a lot, but I now have this breathing technique to counteract it. My family and friends have helped me get through this. Their support is amazing and I don’t know how I’d ever repay them. Remember, small encouragements can get anyone out of a tough spot, whether they have a stammer or not.

Living with a stammer is a challenge and even though I have been through some difficult patches, where I would hardly talk for fear of stammering, it has made me the person I am today. If a doctor or scientist found a cure to rid people of their stammers and offered me a pill to take, I would politely decline and choose to live the rest of my life with mine. I’ve made it 17 years and think I should carry on like this.

If you would like to get in contact with Anne and David Blight at the Starfish Project, call 01825 767268 or visit starfishproject.co.uk

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