Deal with it: overcoming a stammer

UK graduate Anthony Gray has written an article for Edinburgh University newsletter to mark International Stuttering Awareness Day which was on 22nd October.

Anthony Gray watching fellow McGuire graduate captain Scotland

It is International Stuttering Awareness Day on 22nd October. Statistically speaking, 1% of the population have a stammer. It’s more prevalent in males than females and there are a wide range of different types. Living with a stammer is difficult, but, as this article explains, it can be dealt with.

Anthony Gray is my name and I’ve had this monster with me my entire life. My stammer was blatantly obvious once I started speaking, though many other people are able to hide theirs with word substitution and avoidance.

Daily life for me has been a struggle.

When I was growing up I would speak as little as possible, getting my parents or friends to make my phone calls and order my food. I distinctly remember one presentation at school when I was 12. I stood up in front of the class and attempted to speak, but nothing would come out. After a couple of minutes of wanting the ground to open up, I just left the room and hid in the toilets until lunch time an emotional wreck.

That set somewhat of a precedent and I would avoid presentations at all costs during my remaining school years and undergraduate Civil Engineering degree.

Meeting new people at university was tough but I made some great friends who have been very supportive over the years.

It was these friends who came back to the flat one day and told me they had seen some people with stammers doing public speeches in the city centre. I was intrigued. My entire life I had shied away from talking about my stammer. But now I was growing up, coming to the end of my degree, and would soon have to face the big bad world of job interviews. It was time I took action.

It turned out that the people speaking in the street were on the McGuire Programme. It is a unique speech therapy programme run by people who stammer for people who stammer. I remember sitting with an NHS speech therapist when I was younger thinking ‘you have no idea what it’s like to have a stammer, how can you help me?’ So I thought maybe, just maybe, there’s something in the McGuire Programme. After all, if it’s good enough for singer Gareth Gates and Scotland rugby captain Kelly Brown, it’s good enough for me!

I attended my first course in Cardiff in July 2011. I was taught a new breathing technique and how to hit those feared sounds assertively. They also looked at the psychological side of stammering. By speaking to lots of strangers in the street, my fear of talking to people was gradually reduced.

Then, facing my biggest fear, I stood up confidently on a soap box in the middle of the city centre and spoke to around fifty people who had stopped to watch. It was the first time I had been in control of my speech in my life. You can watch the progress I made over the four day course on my YouTube channel.

Following my first McGuire course, I applied to do an Engineering Doctorate in offshore renewable energy at the University of Edinburgh. I was accepted for an interview where I had to give a 10 minute verbal presentation. Where before I would be panicking even before I turned up, I now had a completely different mind-set and was looking forward to practicing my speech in this challenging situation. I nailed the interview and was accepted onto the Doctorate! I’m now undertaking my research project with Pelamis Wave Power in Leith and gave my first conference presentation last month.

I still have a stammer. I’m always going to have a stammer. I don’t have a choice in that matter. However, I can choose how I stammer. By staying in control of my speech, taking my time, I can say exactly what I want to say when I want to say it.

No more avoiding those dreaded presentations for me.

If you stammer, or know somebody who does, then make the first steps to controlling this monster by checking out the McGuire Programme Online Application. They run intensive courses all over the UK and throughout the rest of the world.

It’s not easy, but if you put the work in then your stammer will no longer control your life.

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