Tag Archives: British Stammering Association

The Day after International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD)

kite-007Disclosing one’s stammer is easy they say… vital I say. In fact it is very much a technique I subscribe to, use frequently and encourage others to try. Imagine going into a stressful situation, an interview for example; walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well, half way through the first question, BLOCK. No sound. Embarrassed interviewers. Red faces, yours and theirs. You get the word out, will I block again? Will I stammer? Oh please get me out of here. It feels like a total failure, even though it probably isn’t. Your mind is going through all the usual worst case scenarios.

Now, try this for size. Walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well. “Before we start I would just like to say, I occasionally stammer. It’s not a problem for me and I trust it won’t be for you.” Now you are in control, you have wowed them, you have a USP. If you do block or stammer, it’s not a surprise, there will be no embarrassment, your stress levels are normal for an interview, and you’re likely to be more fluent as a result.

Early self disclosure works in many situations; with new people, those dreaded round the table introductions at meetings and even presentations and speeches. Whatever the occasion, it puts those of us who stammer in control of our speech, something we crave but may rarely experience.

So why is it then that I, someone who has lots of experience and success using this technique, finds it so difficult to talk about my stammer with my family, friends and colleagues? They already know I stammer, a fact I have never wanted or been able to hide, so self disclosure with them would be something slightly different. I know I would not suffer prejudice or ridicule, these are my friends after all, and rightly or wrongly I do crack a joke about stammering, so they know I am in a comfortable place with my speech.

Is it because I would have to speak more about feelings rather than the mechanics of speech? Is it because I would be revealing a more vulnerable side to my character they may not have seen, wish to see or I may wish to reveal? Is it because I don’t like talking about me me me? Am I, as usual, over-thinking the whole situation and should I just get on and talk to them about how stammering has and continues to shape me into the person I am?

These are questions I do not yet have answers to, but writing this has motivated me to move my self disclosure onto the next level, more personal, closer to home. I have always been sceptical of ‘awareness days’, there is a risk those not directly affected will be jolted for 1/365th of a year, then move on to the next cause. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support ISAD and the freedom it gives stammerers to speak out, often for the first time, and long may it continue. As with every British Stammering Association Conference I have attended, we must, must ride the wave of positivity and ‘can do’ generated and continue the work started on that day or weekend.

For me, that means talking to my friends, workmates and anyone else who knows me (sounds like I am on the radio!) about stammering, educating them and doing my bit towards a society that accepts dis-fluency and not expects fluency.

When I was a child I used to enjoy spending time on the beach flying kites; brightly coloured, bold symbols of fun and freedom, only just under control but high in the sky for all around to see. I will be flying the kite for stammering from now on, when will you be flying yours?

paul-roberts-photo

 

Paul Roberts

Positive stammering

positive-language-possible-ableWhen I say to people sometimes that I see my stammering as a positive in my life, they can find it a strange notion. Normally people can only envisage stammering as a negative concept.

My stammering is my natural pattern of speech, and having a stammer does not limit my speech nor hinder my conversations. Communication is so much more than just a speaking voice; it is your body language, facial expressions, your aura. Over the many years in my adult life I have found that being quite open about stammering brings many more conversations and opportunities to make my speech a positive attribute in both my professional and social life.

Quite recently I was thrown back into the position of having to update my CV and prepare for interviews as I had relocated from Northern Ireland and needed to secure a new job.

I have had many discussions with people about how to introduce stammering into my interview conversations. Also dilemmas such as do we tick the disability box? When is the correct time and place to disclose the fact you have a stammer? Can we ask a potential employer for special measures without setting ourselves at a disadvantage?

Our main issue is that in fact we are all different, each person’s stammer is unique in the same way we are all individuals. What affects one person may not affect another, and what seems impossible to one person may be a breeze to another.

For me, I decided that my stammer was something I could be proud of. The experiences that I have had over the last five years I would not have had if I was indeed a fluent person. And so I sat to write my stammer into my CV without actually using the words ‘I stammer’.

This became so much easier when I look at my stammer in a positive way. Showing that through my working relationships my stammer brings strong characteristics is really uplifting. I am able to say that by being very aware of my own speech makes me much more aware and sensitive to other people’s diversities. This makes us much more approachable if others can see that through our own difficulties we are open to accepting theirs.

Through my contacts within the British Stammering Association, going to their conferences, Open Days and getting involved in community groups I can show that I have a good network and that I am actively sourcing and meeting my own needs for back up and support.

For me, stammering has not disabled my life, but has added to it. It has given me more skills that I may not have finely tuned if I had indeed been a fluent person. It has also got me more involved with people from all sorts of places and made me push my own targets forward in terms of doing things for myself and independent travel.

And so, during my interviews I always managed to get my stammer mentioned during a question regarding strengths, talents or interests. Never in a negative way, never in an apologetic way. Mostly it was well received, employers were genuinely interested and it didn’t seem to put any off.

Socially, as I have got older I have cared less about my speech and the amount of fluency I have. My friends and family have become more comfortable with it as I have opened up more. I cannot believe I wasted so many of my younger years afraid to discuss things and be open with people when I was struggling.

My own breakthrough, so to speak, was whilst taking part in some research and being asked to visualise and describe my stammer as a ‘thing’. Something tangible you can see and touch.

For me, this was what turned my stammer into a positive. At that time, I saw my stammer as a weed, like a growing, choking ivy. It could be chopped down, but it was always there, ready to grown again, untamed and relentless. I did not like the thoughts of living with that all my days and so there and then I decided the weed needed to change, something needed to be in its place. And only I could change that. Only I could make that happen.

So I became much more open, stopped trying to ‘fit in’, met more and more people who stammered through the BSA and was soon able to realise that so many people have this dreadful negative feeling towards their stammering. I wanted to change this, I wanted to try to get people to believe in themselves, and that even with a stammer you can be whatever you want.

A_sunflower

For myself, that weed is now a flower, a sunflower, tall and proud, bright and majestic. I had support to get it there, I couldn’t have done it alone. But we must reach out, go out on a limb, take a chance. We will stumble along the way, but the rewards are so much greater than finding we are choked by our own silence.

So for me, stammering has opened doors, albeit you have to be ready to pull that door open wide and walk through it. When you do, you are faced with a whole new world, one where we can all stand like those tall, beautiful flowers and feel the sun on our face.

Mandy Taylor

 

 

 

Stammering activism and speech and language therapy: an inside view

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This month Sam is guest blogger for the Did I Stutter? Project – you may read her blog here

Stammering: A Million Courageous Conversations

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“Iain, I’m going to be submitting a business case for promotion to manager in June.

I normally stammer on my name which then knocks all my confidence, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Also, my fear of stammering often stops me from contributing to larger groups.

These are going to be increasingly important for me if I’m to be promoted and to be a successful manager.

I’ve never discussed my stammer with anyone at work before but it would be great to talk. Can I book some time in with you soon?”

This email received in January 2015 was a simple but not easy way of inviting me into a conversation about stammering. It led to an authentic, at times emotional and certainly courageous conversation between two people who’d never met before.

For the email’s author, it was the start of a year in which they transformed their working relationship with their stammer and achieved huge personal growth. For myself, it was a privilege to have been invited to play a small part.

These days as Co-Chair of the Employers Stammering Network1 (“ESN”) I’m increasingly hearing about courageous conversations similar to the one I’ve shared above. Perhaps best described as a rising conversational tide across public and private sector organisations, it gives us encouragement that we’re on course to achieve our vision to “Change UK employment culture so everyone who stammers can achieve their full career potential.”

However, what does it really mean to have a courageous conversation in the workplace? 

After all, isn’t courage really about physical bravery such as a sporting success or military engagement? In many ways it is. Yet courage is also about less visible acts.

Poet and author David Whyte explores this interior dynamic as one where:

“To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.” 2

In other words, a conversation in which we offer up our own vulnerability to others is courageous. When we talk for the first time about the pain, shame and stigma of having a stammer we are indeed revealing our vulnerability. The closer to the heart it is the more powerful and productive the conversation can be for everyone.

As Professor Brené Brown, an acknowledged leader in the field of vulnerability and courage, explains:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word is ‘cor’ – the Latin word for heart.

In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ ”3

In many ways the visible and invisible elements of courage mirror what happens to us when we stammer. In other words, what people see and what they can’t see. It is not the exterior physical manifestations of our dysfluent speech, facial contortions or defensive body language that can hurt us most, but the interior turmoil pounding away in our heads, stomachs and hearts.

Perhaps it’s no wonder then that employees with interiorised stammers, whose speech typically sounds fluent on the outside, find it so difficult to reveal their hidden dysfluency and feelings of vulnerability on the inside.

Yet Brené Brown reminds us that there is still true strength to be found here:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never a weakness.”4

So in practice, how can we successfully apply this vulnerability, truth and courage in conversations at work?

Timing can be everything and in the working world these conversations often happen as we approach points of change, whether it be a new job, a promotion or the opportunity to take on an exciting new role, especially if it requires more public speaking.

When as a senior manager, I was asked to join and lead our audit training team, it was totally unexpected as I’d always avoided instructing on any training programmes! After agonising over the decision, I accepted the role. Had I been more courageous, it could have been the catalyst for a conversation about my stammer. However, the dialogue with my boss amounted merely to his clipped comment that I needed to develop my facilitation and presentation skills, countered by my grudging acknowledgement that he might just possibly be right! It was another two years before we had that courageous conversation about my stammer as he mentored me towards becoming a partner in our firm.

There is no ‘preferred way’ to hold a courageous conversation and there’s an array of courses, multi-step programmes, articles and poetry out there. They range from “straight-talking, take no prisoners” to the “let the spirit take you wherever it will” approaches – it’s whatever works best for you.

Choosing the right conversational partner is choosing the right conversation. Do you want someone who’s going to be open, to whom you can listen and will perhaps be a little courageous themselves? Or someone more focused on listening to you and on being a friendly, receptive ear. Again, there’s no right answer. My own mentor was occasionally open, sometimes uncomfortably challenging and always supportive.

As helpful content and support for these conversations, the ESN website www.stammering.org/esn will soon include a series of case studies featuring employees talking openly about the relationship between their stammer and their work. Whether we stammer or not, much better though to use our own stories, the ones that only we can wholly tell, giving ourselves an open canvas to engage in a truly courageous way.

My invitation to you.

With a UK labour force of over 30 million people5, it’s a long haul journey to achieve the cultural change the ESN is aiming for. However, with over 300,000 UK adults who stammer, our families, friends, therapists and allies in both predictable and surprising places, our home team could very well be a million people strong.

That’s potentially a Million Courageous Conversations!

So my new year invitation to you is to become one of the million people forming our home team and to have at least one Courageous Conversation about stammering this year – a conversation through which, by being a little bit vulnerable, you’ll be amazed by what a difference you can make.

Iain Wilkie

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Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”).

All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

 

 

 

  1. The Employers Stammering Network is operated by the British Stammering Association. For further information please email either Helen Carpenter at hc@stammering.org or Norbert Lieckfeldt at nl@stammering.org.
  1. David Whyte, “Consolations. The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”, Many Rivers Press, 2014
  1. Brené Brown, “I Thought it was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame”, 2007, Gotham
  1. Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead”, 2012, Gotham
  1. Office National Statistics, www.ons.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totally OK to Stammer at Work (2/2)

Iain smile photoMartyn: “Do you ever read poetry?”

Me : “No. Of course not.”

Martyn: “You might try it sometime. David Whyte1, something like that.”

It had been just a short conversation but, as usual, his intuition was spot on.

I’d been discussing with Martyn Brown, my Executive Coach at Ashridge2, my progress towards becoming more of myself at work, including being more open about my stammer.

But poetry, that was a weird one. I was curious.

Fast forward 5 years and here I am gratefully responding to an invitation from intandem to write about how poetry has helped me to forge a much healthier relationship with my stammer. In last month’s blog post I wrote how the Employers Stammering Network3 is aiming to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”, whereas this article is shaped more towards my own personal journey.

Over recent years, I’ve used my experience of many years in business to confront a series of questions that I wish I’d known the answers to at the start of my career.

And nowadays, I wonder what advice I’d offer to my younger self if he asked me these questions – and, to help his imagination, what lines of poetry might I even share with him? Here’s how our Q&A session might sound:

Q 1 How much will my stammer restrict my career?

A 1: It may surprise you, because you feel so ashamed when sometimes you can’t even say your own name, but the answer rests almost entirely within your own control. Your stammer can dominate your career or it can be almost completely irrelevant. Truly!

For me the big realisation was that it was within my gift to choose how I saw myself with a stammer – either as someone who’s shame and self-oppression for having a stammer would continue all my life – or as someone who could accept over time that it’s “totally OK for me to stammer – even at work”.

That’s so easy to write, yet it took me years to get here. And one of the steps helping along the way was learning that by living more choice-fully in relation to my stammer, I could influence for better or worse the outcomes for my own career. This point about consciously making difficult choices lies at the heart of the closing lines of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’:

 

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN (Extract)4

Robert Frost

 

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

Q 2 : How will I ever become more comfortable with speaking in public?

A 2: For people who stammer, speaking in public is often a step too far – and we avoid it at all costs.

Throughout my career, my relationship with speaking up has been erratic to say the least! My progress has come from taking calculated risks, some successful and others not – but doing it in my own way for better or worse. Stubborn, you might call it. I prefer to call it courageous!

It’s not been easy at all – but it’s definitely been worth it.

This sometimes unbearably difficult path of making changes in mid-life is a core theme of some of David Whyte’s work, and it’s almost as if ‘Start Close In’ was written with the courageous step of speaking up in public for the first time in mind .

 

START CLOSE IN (Extract)5

David Whyte

 

“Start Close in

Don’t take the second step

or the third

start with the first

thing,

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

 

Start with

the ground

you know,

the pale ground

beneath your feet

your own

way of starting

the conversation.”

 

Q3: How can I cope when I’m having a bad day with my stammer?

A 3: Some days are just difficult stammering days. You’re tired, nervous or slightly out of sorts – that’s life.

And yes, there’s still pressure not to stammer at work and, even though I’ve learnt to rise above it, it can still feel bruising when it’s been a tough stammering day.

Learning self-acceptance, resilience and perspective has been crucial to coping with those days. Like Derek Walcott’s raw realisation in “Love after Love”, it’s meant looking in the mirror and accepting myself. Accepting that my stammer has always been part of me – and not to try to make it a stranger.

 

LOVE AFTER LOVE (Extract)6

Derek Walcott

 

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”

 

Q4: Where can I find advice, support and kindred spirits?

A4: Nowadays there is so much support and friendship out here for people who stammer.

Firstly, I’d point towards the British Stammering Association7 (“BSA”) the national charity for people in the UK who stammer.

And secondly to our Employers Stammering Network, an arm of the BSA, where our goal is simply to make it “Totally OK to Stammer at Work”. Don’t worry, we never discuss poetry, that’s just me!

Both the BSA and ESN offer a spirit of welcome – from people who stammer – that’s warm and genuine. Just visit the BSA Closed Facebook group to get a feel for it.

Which brings me to my final poem, from David Whyte’s recent collection ‘Pilgrim’, which develops the theme of arriving amongst strangers who themselves have walked a similar, searching journey.

 

CAMINO (Extract)8

David Whyte

 

“…….other people

seemed to know you even before you gave up

being a shadow on the road and came into the light,

even before you sat down with them,

broke bread and drank wine,

wiped the wind-tears from your eyes:

pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.”

 

Before ending, I have an invitation for you.

Please start a conversation with someone about how it’s “Totally OK to Stammer at Work”. You might choose a friend, a colleague, perhaps your boss.

Every conversation is an important step forward in improving workplace culture towards stammering – and if you’re stuck for how to start, you will surely find inspiration in the opening lines of ‘Start Close In’ above…….

I’m keen to hear how you get on!

poetry wordle

Iain Wilkie

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”). All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

 

References

1. David Whyte – Poet, author, lecturer. www.davidwhyte.com

2. Martyn Brown – Business Director, Organisational and Executive Development, Ashridge Business School, and Ashridge Programme Leader for EY.

3. Employers Stammering Network is operated by the British Stammering Association (see 6 below). For further information contact please email either iwilkie@uk.ey.com or Norbert Lieckfeldt at esn@stammering.org or mail@esn.org.uk

4. “The poetry of Robert Frost”, ed Edward Connery Lathem (Jonathan Cape 1967), Random House Ltd, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. “Staying Alive”, edited by Neil Astley, 2002, Bloodaxe Books Ltd, Highgreen, Torset, Northumberland, NE48 1RP.

5. David Whyte, “River Flow”, New & Selected poems 1984-2007. Many Rivers Press, P O Box 868, Langley, WA 98260, USA. www.davidwhyte.com © David Whyte.

6. Roger Housden 2003 “Ten poems to change your life”, Hodder & Stoughton, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH, UK. Farrar, Straws and Giroux LLC, Collected Poems of Derek Walcott, 1996. © Derek Walcott.

7. British Stammering Association, 15 Old Ford Road, London E2 9PJ. For information contact www.stammering.org or 020 -8983 1003 or nl@stammering.org.

8. “Pilgrim – poems by David Whyte, 2012”. Many Rivers Press, P O Box 868, Langley, WA 98260, USA. www.davidwhyte.com. © David Whyte 2012.

Totally OK to Stammer at Work (1/2)

Iain smile photo “Here comes Iain WWWWilkie” was the greeting from a fluent-speaking former colleague at a reunion party in a London pub last week.

Ten years ago his words would’ve put me firmly on the back foot, but these days I grab such playground comments as an opportunity to talk about how enlightened employers are now viewing stammering as an issue to be recognised and supported. So I launched straight in and explained how two years ago the formation of The Employers Stammering Network (“ESN”) was a giant leap forward in our aim to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”. As we chatted, my former colleague initially looked awkward but he then started listening attentively and, when I was leaving, he suggested we meet again for lunch sometime soon.

So what can we learn from this unexpected conversation about stammering in the workplace?

Firstly, the stigma of having a stammer at work is still perpetuated by many good people across many fine organisations. This is largely under-pinned by ignorance rather than malice.

Secondly, most people, including many who stammer, have never had an informed conversation about stammering in their lives. There is, as Norbert Lieckfeldt my Co-Chairman at the ESN says, “a conspiracy of silence around stammering”. Yet, once engaged in a conversation, people are often eager to learn and happy to become supporters.

Thirdly, the ESN is proving attractive to leading private and public sector employers who’ve never thought before about stammering. They’re keen to ensure their employees are not held back from reaching their full potential just because of their dysfluency.

So you might ask, what is the purpose of the ESN and how is it going after its first two years?

Put simply, our purpose is to create an employment culture in the UK where it’s “Totally OK to stammer at work”. More officially it’s “To help employers in supporting the development of their people who stammer, thereby enabling employees to achieve their full career potential, for the benefit of both the individual and the employer”. Like most purpose statements, it’s a bit of a mouthful!

Since launching with the energetic support of the Rt Hon Ed Balls in May 2013, we now have 13 [1] major organisations as members, collectively employing over 400,000 people in the UK alone. Our growth saw us recognised as one of the UK’s “Most Awesome Networks” in February 2015 by Inclusive Networks [2] and we have two more major employers lining up to join. However, it’s the support that we feel all around us that truly has Norbert, myself and many others believing that we’re on our way to achieving our transformational aim to make it “Totally OK to stammer at work”.

Most encouragingly of all, there are many employees who’ve already benefitted from their employer being an ESN member. An ESN colleague at a leading bank stepped into a much better role after gaining the confidence to ‘go for’ the job he really wanted. Another ESN colleague decided to talk openly about his stammer in front of a promotion panel in a way he’d never have done a year earlier – and got the job! And a senior manager with a pronounced stammer at my own firm told me “You changed my life!” It doesn’t get any more transformational or emotional than that!

One of the biggest challenges for the ESN is helping our members to succeed in getting stammering talked about in their own organisations. This isn’t about adding it to a wish-list in a strategy paper, but about how to change long-embedded cultural attitudes towards stammering, like those I encountered in the pub last week. It requires the public commitment of the leadership, the identification of role-models and courageous conversations that ask for and explain how to achieve that change. As Lou Gerstner, former Chairman of IBM said, “Culture isn’t one aspect of the game – it is the game” [3].

Our experience with the ESN is that it’s a tough, untrodden path that we’ve started to take; a sentiment that’s expressed beautifully in this translation from Antonio Machado’s poem Cantares:

”Pathmaker there is no path
You make the path by walking
By walking you make the path”

After all, we’re trying to get organisations to embrace something that most of us, dysfluent or not, have spent much of our lives feeling uncomfortable even talking about. However, it’s a fresh willingness to enter into courageous and vulnerable conversations that’s at the heart of the ESN’s opportunity – and in next month’s blog I’ll share insights into my own journey from a shy, underperforming employee into a more confident and fully engaged partner at EY.

In the ESN, we’re learning to be patient, to take the knock-downs and to overcome our doubts. Yet in just two years since launching, with the changes that we’re increasingly seeing in employees who stammer and with ever-expanding awareness of stammering amongst employers, it’s already become “OK to Stammer” in some parts of the UK workplace. Now that really is a path worth walking.

Iain Wilkie

Iain Wilkie is a Senior Partner at EY and the Co-Chairman of the Employers Stammering Network   (“ESN”). All views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.

If you or your employer would like information about the ESN, please email either iwilkie@uk.ey.com or Norbert Lieckfeldt at esn@stammering.org or mail@esn.org.uk

 

[1] Current ESN members: A4E, BrightHouse, CitiGroup, Defence College for Health Education & Training, DHL, EY, First Group, Lloyds Banking Group, Prudential, RBS, Santander, Shell, & Warrington Borough Council.

[2] Inclusive Networks www.inclusivenetworks.co.uk

[3] Louis V Gerstner Jr, “Who says Elephants Can’t Dance?”, Harper Collins

 

 

 

International Stammering Awareness Day 2014: My Shout!

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Raising public awareness is rife these days. There seem to be colourful wrist bands and ribbons for almost every health and social issue you can think of, and stammering is no exception. Today, on International Stammering Awareness Day, you can mark the occasion by sporting a unique sea-green version. It may be a small gesture, but it’s a positive step in the right direction:

We need more awareness around stammering!

isad_wristband250

This is true for all people who stammer, but it feels especially relevant for people who have interiorised stammers, like me. I like to think of interiorised stammering as the invisible twin of overt stammering. People with interiorised stammers are able to maintain a near-perfect fluent façade by skirting around difficult sounds and words, and avoiding certain social situations altogether. But while they may appear to speak ‘normally’, this comes at a huge mental and emotional cost. Internally, they are struggling with all the thoughts and emotions that come with having a stammer. Anxiety, fear, frustration, shame, helplessness, loneliness – these are just a handful of those emotions. And they are underpinned by a flood of negative thoughts, such as ‘People won’t accept me if they find out that I stammer’, ‘I need to be fluent to do my job well’, and ‘Stammering means that I’ve failed’.

It’s difficult for people to understand that someone can have a stammer without actually stammering. I remember confiding in an old friend many years ago that I stammer. Her response was both rewarding and devastating: “But you speak perfectly fluently.” I was elated to hear that I had successfully pulled off normal speech, but at the same time it felt very lonely to know that this meant I would receive none of the support and understanding I really needed.

I believe this lack of awareness of interiorised stammering comes in part from an overly simple portrayal of stammering in the media. The King’s Speech – a film that shone a powerful light on stammering – profiles the struggles of someone with an overt stammer. And more recently, Musharaf, from the TV programme, Educating Yorkshire, captured the nation’s attention as a boy with a severe stammer fighting to be heard in a fluent world. While difficulty with speech is a hallmark of all types of stammering, interiorised stammering challenges the perception that this difficulty is immediately apparent. It shows that stammering is actually a very varied condition, and that there is so much more to having a stammer than just talking differently.

International Stammering Awareness Day is a wonderful opportunity for us to raise awareness of these, and other, aspects of stammering. Whether it’s talking about our experiences with others, wearing a wristband or a ribbon, running a marathon, or writing a blog post (!), every effort to improve the public insight into stammering will lead to a better understanding of this condition. I look forward to the day when I can tell someone that I stammer and they nod unquestioningly.

Cara

Reflections on my first BSA Conference: inspiration, connection, courage and community

photo

A week later and I am still feeling buoyed up by the positivity of the British Stammering Association’s National 2014 Conference, held in association with the Scottish Stammering Network in Glasgow. I was not sure what to expect as I made the long train journey north on Friday 22nd August, arriving just in time to attend the City Hall drinks – a grand and fitting social event to mark the beginning of the conference.

Conversations flowed as readily as the wine – with old friendships quickly renewed and new friendships founded. I was struck by the warmth, energy and harmonious chatter as the evening progressed – and which set the tone for the rest of the weekend. People mixed and mingled freely at mealtimes, between presentations and late into the night. It soon became apparent that the social aspect was an integral part of the conference’s success for many of the delegates – as the early morning photos at George’s Square clearly testify!

Significant highlights for me included:

  • Iain Wilkie’s keynote on ‘Transforming Employability’. Drawing on research highlighting employers’ ignorance and misunderstanding of stammering, Iain outlined the evolution of Ernst and Young’s ‘Stammering Network’ since its inception in 2011, which led to the launch of the ‘Employers Stammering Network’ (ESN), a BSA supported initiative, in 2013. Combining personal and corporate narratives interspersed with thought-provoking quotations, Iain advocated a cultural shift towards diversity and inclusiveness underpinned by flexible support processes involving the shared commitment of both employers and employees. To this end he invited all present to open up dialogues about stammering at work in the understanding that ‘there is no courageous conversation without vulnerability’. More information can be found on the BSA website: www.stammering.org/help-information/professionals-and-business/businesses/unlocking-talent-employers-stammering-network
  • Co-presenting with Katy Bailey (www.free-speech.org.uk) on the relevance of the social model of disability for stammering and employment. Relocating the problem of stammering in society and offering participants a chance to identify the physical and attitudinal barriers experienced in the workplace enabled us to explore how prevailing norms, language and stereotypes can go unchallenged and become insidiously internalised. Practical ways of managing these oppressive external and internal barriers were then discussed. Here is our handout if you are interested in finding out more.
  • Dr Allan McGroarty’s reflections on ‘Dr Quack and his stammer cure: quick fixes, bogus treatments and charlatans’. An amusing and informative review on how to spot a ‘Quack’ following the growth of the Internet and social media. Allan concluded by reflecting on the important role that the stammering and professional communities need to play in questioning and challenging false claims about stammering therapy in the public domain.
  • RSM Jimmy Lang’s motivational speech on ‘Reaching the Top’. The sheer grit, determination and resilience that Jimmy has applied to progressing his career in the army are truly impressive. Furthermore, his willingness and commitment to using his experience and influence to benefit others has resulted in the Defence College of Health Education & Training (DCHET) joining the ESN and developing clearer systems and support processes for other military personnel who stammer. Jimmy’s personal story offered a direct and powerful challenge to the ‘why try?’ effect often reported in the research (Corrigan et al., 2009; Boyle, 2013) due to the internalisation of public stigma. Exposure to Jimmy’s encouraging and constructive ‘can do’ attitude was particularly timely for the student I sat next to, who was contemplating a career in speech and language therapy and questioning the implications having a stammer would have.
  • Convincing reports on the BSA impact at the AGM, with a persuasive video testimonial on the successful Facebook page, underscored the need for greater involvement in fundraising in order to safeguard the future of the BSA: “Ask not what the BSA can do for you, ask what you can do for the BSA!”
  • The Gala dinner at the spectacular Science Centre followed by a highly entertaining impromptu exploration of Glasgow’s nightlife.
  • Bob Adam’s and Trev Bradley’s dynamic, engaging and practical workshop on ‘staying safe on the streets’ – a salient reminder given the unfortunate mugging of one of the conference delegates in the early hours of Sunday morning.
  • The infamous ‘Open Mike’ session where delegates queued for the entire 90-minute session to speak out in front of the bigger group – many for the first time, some to share their conference reflections, others to signpost a helpful resource (e.g. the Opening Doors employment course run jointly by City Lit and the BSA) and one person to get some practice in before his daughter’s wedding later this year!

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who made the 2014 conference possible, especially David Lilburn and John Mann, and to everyone who came and contributed to such a lively and memorable weekend.

In the online feedback, I was set the task of capturing the essence of the conference in four words. They would have to be: inspiration, connection, courage and community.

The next BSA conference is scheduled for 2016 – I’d highly recommend making a note in your diary now!

Sam

Boyle, M. (2013) Assessment of stigma associated with stuttering: Development and evaluation of the Self-Stigma of Stuttering Scale (4S). Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 1517-1529.

Corrigan P., Larson J. & Rusch N. (2009) Self-stigma and the “why-try” effect: impact on life goals and evidence-based practices. World Psychiatry, 8, 75-81.

 

 

Stammering and the social model of disability: challenge and opportunity

Where does the real problem of stammering lie?

How does society communicate its values and norms about fluency and how does this affect people who stammer?

How does the SLT tread the delicate path between helping their client manage their stammering more effectively (and increase ease of communication) without reinforcing unhelpful ideas about stammering (and fluency)?

These are just some of the questions Katy Bailey, Sam Simpson and I posed in a joint presentation to the Oxford Dysfluency Conference on 19 July 2014.

photo 1

At the presentation’s heart was a conviction we all share that the social model of disability has much to tell us – people who stammer, speech and language therapists, and wider society – about stammering, and how by working together we can challenge and overcome some of the stigma out there and self-oppression in here which can make life so difficult for those of us who stammer.

Katy began by tracing the origins and development of the social model in the disabled people’s movement which disputed the traditional medical conception of disability as the individual’s problem requiring impairment expertise, cure, therapy and care. Instead, the social model locates the ‘problem’ of disability in society: in the physical barriers, but also in the negative stereotypes and prejudices which can push disabled people to the margins of society, whilst upholding powerful notions of ‘normality’. The physical barrier of a voicemail which does not let me finish saying my name may be familiar to people who stammer, but far more insidious and interesting for me is the stigma around stammering which operates along psychological and emotional pathways, and is there, Katy argues, in the struggle of stammering itself.

Sam then recounted her own development as a speech and language therapist and the disturbing realisation that she was training within a tradition firmly underpinned by the medical model in which she, the ‘impairment expert’ was expected to ‘fix’ and restore the client to normality (fluency), without any awareness of the social norms and stigma the therapy was reinforcing. Times have moved on since then – Sam’s book which she co-edited with Carolyn Cheasman and Rachel Everard, Stammering Therapy from the Inside is evidence enough – but there is still plenty of stammering therapy for which fluency is the overriding preoccupation, and which fails to take the client’s voice into account, and to grasp the broader factors of self-identity, society and social stigma.

Finally, I assessed some of the cultural pressures we face: the performance-driven and perfectionist zeitgeist in which we live and the haunting and destructive appeal of the ‘fluency god’ which I am happy to say more and more people who stammer are starting to renounce. That certainly seems to be the impression I get from a range of blogs, podcasts and websites: StutterTalk, Stuttering is Cool, British Stammering Association, Free Speech, Diary of a Stutterer and the latest, Did I Stutter? project. If you haven’t done so already, check them out! The internet and social media has been a wonderful way of bringing people who stammer together, to share our stories, insights and experiences, and to provide some collective resistance to the powerful social norms which tell us either to keep quiet and get it fixed, or at least to keep up the façade of fluency. This is the good news. And the other piece of good news is that speech and language therapists also have an important part to play in helping people who stammer overcome these barriers. Approaches such as mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy enable us to look at our thoughts around stammering differently, and foster healthier and more self-accepting thoughts and behaviours. There is much good work to build on, and more opportunity to continue this conversation between therapists, clients and self-help groups on how we can all work together to help people who stammer on our ongoing journey from oppression to liberation.

St John Harris
website: www.free-speech.org.uk

email: stjohn.harris@free-speech.org.uk
twitter: @StJohnHarris

Therapy in Waterstones

Behind most books lies a tangle of anxiety about perception, rejection and word-choice. So the laden shelves of Waterstones in Teddington seemed a perfect backdrop for the local launch of ‘Stammering Therapy from the Inside – New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults’. Like publishing, the event pulled together an array of knowledge, experiences and feelings into full public view: therapists, people who stammer, people who don’t stammer. To my left was a man who, like me, knew the authors through therapy. To my right was a father whose son stammers; he had dropped into the shop out of curiosity. Elsewhere in the audience was Norbert Lieckfeldt who for many years has campaigned as head of the British Stammering Association. Speech therapy, whether private or in groups, is so easily hushed away like an embarrassing medical operation. The King’s Speech helped slash the stigma and fuel media interest, but hearing Sam, Carolyn, Rachel and others talk publicly about the evolution of their work seemed to take this one step further – from screens and newspapers into real-life.

Over many years I have been inspired by all three
authors at various stages of therapy. This event was a
reminder that I have struggled to communicate to
others what this therapy has been all about. For all they know I’ve been star-jumping and balancing
marbles on my tongue, like Bertie under Lionel Logue’s instruction. I suspect they are unaware of the
emotional mechanics at play. It was provoking to hear two people talk publicly about their own therapy. As Yahoo’s head of retail, Dan Durling has to (in his own words) ‘talk a lot’. He had at first approached his intandem therapy with frustration, wanting not to ‘talk’ about his stammer but just get a cure. It had taken him some time to realise that his friends and colleagues actually cared much less about his imperfect speech than he did. This was an important step in his journey toward acceptance and modification.

Similarly Cara Steger, an amateur violinist, in a display of ‘therapy in action’, talked of her struggle with the passive-sounding idea of ‘acceptance’. By contrast Cara had been used to a physical struggle in trying to be fluent. She compared her speech to learning the violin. The initial controlling impulse is to grip the bow tightly, but with learning and hard work comes a realisation that a lighter touch produces a better sound from the instrument. That had felt similar to learning to work with, not against, her stammer. It is rare that I hear other people stammer, and ironically I find it difficult when I do. Dan and Cara were largely fluent as they spoke, but where they did stammer I felt initial frustration for them, before focusing on the content of what they were actually saying. I wondered if others went through a similar process, and I reflected this might be how people feel when I speak.

Stammering is complex, uncertain and serially misunderstood. There is much to be gained from opening up a traditionally internalized experience, against our media backdrop of polished fluency and rapid delivery. For communities, schools, employers or whoever else, perhaps poignant local events like this are the way to go.
Walter Scott