The Sport of Speaking

Constant practice is a concept used by James, who is on a winning streak after conquering years of not being able to say his own name due to a severe stutter. He would like to highlight International Stuttering Awareness Day on 22 October by sharing his success through "The Sport of Speaking"– incorporating the costal breathing technique.

WHEN DID YOU START STUTTERING?
I have been struggling with a stutter from a very young age, but it is difficult to pinpoint a cause, or an event that triggered it. Research has shown that there may be a genetic component, although there is no one else in my family who stutters. I am one of triplets and one theory in the development of a stutter is frequent interruptions when one is learning to talk and trying to join a conversation. The person stutters trying to "get a word in edgeways" and this becomes a habit.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR STUTTER
Most people take speaking for granted and do not realise how very difficult it is for a stutterer to cope in a situation when they cannot express their ideas. Oral presentations at school were always a daunting and difficult task, and time pressure makes fluent speaking even more problematic. Teasing from other children led to an emotional component and ultimately I felt I couldn't reach my full potential with my stutter holding me back. I was helped by a few speech therapists over the years, but there was never a lasting solution. I fell back into the avoidance techniques used by many stutterers - rather keeping quiet in a group conversation, avoiding speaking at all costs, stuttering uncontrollably and using other physical mechanisms such as closing my eyes and trying to force a word out.
HOW HAVE YOU IMPROVED YOUR FLUENCY?
In my matric year at PHS I was introduced to the McGuire programme and the book Beyond Stammering written by David McGuire - a stutterer himself who is now in control of his stutter by using the breathing techniques he has developed to overcome his speech impediment. By employing a sports mentality of "playing to win" the programme aims to free a person who stutters so that they can speak eloquently and remain in control, by breathing with the costal diaphragm and speaking on the airflow as one exhales. I do a daily warm up (just as an athlete would do), and we learn to conquer our fear by continual practice and facing our challenges head on - fighting fire with fire. The support of my family, before and after the course has really helped me. Some were so impressed at my progress that they became quite emotional when hearing the difference in my speech. Even my teachers at school were quite tearful when they heard how in control of my stutter I could be.
WHAT IS THE INCIDENCE OF STUTTERING?
About 1% of the population is affected by a stammer. Gareth Gates the pop idol singer has a serious stammer, but interestingly he can sing without a problem. He follows the costal breathing technique, and now coaches and supports others who may relapse and fall into a fearsome stutter again, ruining their daily lives and careers.
PRESENTING AT TOASTMASTERS
I am preparing for my fourth presentation at Pinelands Toastmasters. It is an environment where I can challenge myself, but be safe in the knowledge that the audience is sympathetic to my situation. As my fluency improves I find that I am able to portray the 'real me'. I also realise, however, that like dieting – there is no everlasting cure. I will have to work at my breathing exercises daily, and remember all the techniques taught about avoidance tactics and deliberate dysfluency if I want to remain a good, eloquent speaker.
HOW DO YOU FEEL IF SOMEONE FINISHES YOUR SENTENCES?
Now that I have better control over my speech and feel more confident, I am also forming better relationships with people. On the whole though, I think it is better for the listener to be patient and try and gauge whether the stutterer would like help with the word or not.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?
I enjoy reading motivational books, crime and adventure stories. Running and staying fit at the gym is important because I am a personal fitness trainer. I go to many of the McGuire courses, and facilitate as much as I can, as well as aiming to become a primary coach and course instructor.
WHEN IS THE NEXT SOUTH AFRICAN COURSE
The next course in Cape Town will be from 20 - 23 November. Please contact info@mcguireprogramme.co.za