WHEN Alan Oliver came home early from his gap year in Australia, he thought his stutter had got the better of him. People struggled to understand him and constantly asked him to repeat himself. But after 12 years of help from a national programme, the Live Borders sport development officer is a different man. And he is now encouraging anybody who has speech problems to get help – ahead of International Stuttering Awareness Day next Tuesday.
He told us: “Most people don’t know about International Stuttering Awareness Day. “And a lot of people don’t see it as a disability. I noticed I had a stammer when I was at school. But it was when I went on a gap year to Australia I noticed it was really bad. Some locals could not understand me. It was very stressful as I found it difficult to say what I wanted to say. I wouldn’t even want to order in a restaurant. I would ask somebody else to do it or just point to the board.”
“There were times, for example, when I wanted a can of Coke, I would just ask for Fanta because I found it easier to say.”
And it was in Australia that Alan looked for support. He found the McGuire Programme which helps people overcome stuttering. He added: “I have been on the programme for 12 years and it has really helped me.
“They concentrate on the physical and also on the psychological aspects of stuttering. Everybody stutters, just most people use words such as ‘like’ or ‘erm’ when they are speaking. So the programme is about making you an eloquent speaker and giving you confidence. It’s not a cure. When I came back from Australia in 2006 I went to one of the programme’s open days in Dundee and I signed up straight away and started in July. It has helped me to control my stutter, give me a more confident mindset and take ownership. You also get assigned a personal coach. It has made a huge difference.”
Alan went on to play for Scotland in the Cerebral Palsy World Cup in 2007 and has become a successful badminton player. Now he works with sport and leisure trust Live Borders, helping youngsters with disabilities. He added: “Getting the help has really helped me in my work. You are always faced with new challenges, such as speaking to someone for the first time or making a phone call. But just like in sport, you need to practice all of the time and not worry about making a mistake. I would encourage anybody who was in the same position as me to get help – to take that first step.
“It is a weight off your shoulders.”
The McGuire Programme is holding a free open day in the The Board Room at Edinburgh Central Library on Saturday, October 26, at 2pm