I have stammered as long as I can remember, and in my family, my grandad and two on my mother’s side also stammered.
One of my early memories around the age of 11 was being in class and having to read aloud while the teacher recorded it, which was then played back to the class, causing me to feel very embarrassed and humiliated. I was repeatedly saying, ‘No I don’t want to do it’, but there was no option – my pleas were in vain and the whole class, including the teacher, laughed at me.
I felt ashamed and tried to cover up my stammer from that point. I used various tricks, including humour, avoidance of situations, word swaps and remaining silent, and, in some cases, my frustration developed into anger at my situation.
I grew up as one of five boys in a very difficult family situation. There was sibling rivalry and a lack of love and attention, resulting in a house with a bad atmosphere. There was no concern for me as a child struggling to cope from either my parents or schoolteachers, leading me to feel I was battling on my own.
As an adult, this way of coping by covering up and hiding my stammer has been in place my whole life. I would never admit to having a stammer, or put myself in a position where I may be found out, so avoided ordering in restaurants, going to the bar or using the telephone.
In 2013, I found a stammering community on Facebook called the British Stammering Association and this provided me with a whole range of information, and most importantly, shared experiences with fellow stammerers. I learnt about overt and covert stammerers and coping mechanisms – some work and some have no evidence, but the group explained the pros and cons from their experiences.
Following discussions, which at times were disagreements, I and people I had been chatting to decided to set up our own support page called That’s easy for you to say, with the intention that it provided a coffee shop-type atmosphere for issues not just about stammering. It now has over 300 members.
In August 2014, I attended my first BSA conference in Glasgow, which filled me with nervous anticipation. I have rarely met other people who stammer and this was going to be about 200 of them all together.
I was unsure how severe my stammer would be compared to others and how we would interact with each other – many of us had chatted on the internet and shared experiences, but would that be the same face to face?
The three days were an amazing experience and gave me the confidence to become more overt and finally admit to others and myself that I have a stammer.
At the end of the conference, there was an open-mic session. Prior to being there, I told my wife there was no way I would be standing up. During the three days the whole atmosphere was one of understanding, support, encouragement and togetherness so guess who stood up and spoke on a microphone to the delegates at the end? It was such a proud, emotional moment for me and all those present – not a dry eye in the house.
Since the conference I have openly posted on Facebook regarding stammering issues and have admitted my stammer to family and friends, which is a huge step for me. Thankfully, they have all been behind me 100 per cent. I am now an active member of the BSA and am promoting their work wherever I can, and dispelling some of the myths regarding supposed treatments which have no evidence.
I feel very strongly that children who develop a stammer need kindness, support and confidence-building to help them on their stammering journey without developing the feelings of shame and worthlessness I felt. Parents of children with a stammer have found lots of help and information available from the BSA to support their work with speech and language therapy, which is hugely beneficial.
I would like everyone to be aware of International Stammering Awareness Day on October 22, and to consider looking at the website www.stammering.org to see how they may be involved/support those who are dealing with a stammer on a daily basis. It is also raising awareness with employers to ensure stammerers are not discriminated against and are supported in their daily work.
The BSA as a charity does a fantastic job in raising awareness and providing lots of information and a telephone helpline for advice so please consider any help you can offer. I am looking to establish a North East group as the nearest one currently is in Durham so anyone interested can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org