Gareth Gates helped give me the motivation to control my stammer

LANCASHIRE man Paul Paluch’s memories of child- hood consist of all the lengths he went to to avoid speaking as he battled life with a stammer. He tells AASMA DAY about how watching Gareth Gates stuttering on television finally gave him the motivation he needed to change his life by beating his stutter with a specialised programme.

How a Pop Idol’s struggle inspired Paul’s triumph

Paul Paluch at an Association of Speakers Club dinner

CLUTCHING his bus fare in his sweaty palms, a young Paul Paluch would feel his anxiety levels rising as he inched closer to the moment he would have to ask for his ticket. The thought of having to verbally utter his required are in front of people filled him with panic – until he came up with the ingenious idea of writing his bus fare on to a piece of card and holding it up in front of the bus driver every morning.

It was just one of the many creative ways Paul came up with to avoid speaking unless he absolutely had to, as he had a terrible stammer, which made him feel different from all the other children.

Paul, now 33, who lives in Lancaster, explains: “The bus fare I had to ask for was 88 pence return or half return to Greyhound Bridge and with vowel sounds and ‘h’s being some of the most challenging words to say, I dreaded it “To avoid saying these sounds and words, I wrote my bus fare on a card and held it up in front of the bus driver every morning.

“Brilliant idea I thought to myself. Until I felt the embarrassment and shame that I had to do this when none of my other school pals or younger brothers had to. “Why was I different?”

Paul, who is director of AV specialists Lee Engineering Ltd, says his earliest memories of stammering are from primary school when he first became aware that his speech was different from the other children in his class.

Paul recalls: “Throughout my time at primary school in Lancaster, I would shy away from speaking opportunities such as the annual nativity play or giving a reading in church during a religious festival. I didn’t want to embarrass my family or myself if I stumbled on a word or sound. I kept asking myself: ‘Why am I different?

However, I only really avoided public speaking at primary school and I was still regularly told off for chatting in class.

“When I was playing with friends or talking to family members, it didn’t really bother me. “I would often ask: “Mum when will my stuttering stop”? To which she would reply: “When you get to big school son, when you get to big school.” 

When Paul moved to high school, he enjoyed having different classrooms, subjects, teachers and being with so many more children. However, going to high school didn’t bring the miraculous cure to his stammer as his mother had hoped. Paul remembers: “There are a few situations that really stand out for me.

One was during my fourth year at school when I took economics.  My teacher would regularly forget to plan anything so he would ask the class to begin reading aloud from the text book and he would start from the front of the class and work his way back. “This was one of my most hated lessons and the feelings and thoughts that went with it were agonising.

“I would have this feeling of creeping death and panic as I waited for it to be my turn.” 

When my turn did come round, the blood would rush to my cheeks and my ears would burn and I would experience short breaths and sweaty palms while my heart beat wildly in my chest. “I felt like I wanted the ground to swallow me up. As I tried to speak, I would get this feeling of reaching for something just out of grasp and the words would just get stuck in my throat or mouth and I would bite my lips until they bled.

 “When I tried to talk, I would stick my tongue out and shake my head and avoid eye contact. Tongue thrusts and head shakes were my way of trying to get the words and sounds out.” Paul didn’t enjoy English at school because of the fear of being asked to speak out loud. Fortunately for him, most of his English teachers did not ask him to read out loud, but there were a few occasions when he simply had to do presentations as part of the syllabus. Paul recalls: “I felt sheer terror and torture. In the days leading up to the lesson, I wouldn’t eat, would barely sleep and I’d grow increasingly anxious as the time grew nearer. “At this time in high school, I was a regular attendee at the orthodontist having braces fitted and adjusted on what seemed to be a monthly occurrence. “I always kept my appointment card in my top pocket of my blazer and soon realized it had space on for future appointments. Future appointments I could time to ensure I avoided the next presentation lesson, avoid the feelings of fear, panic, self hate, shame and sense of isolation. “Soon, I was going through appointment cards for fun just to ensure I avoided standing in front of the class.”

Paul had tried several NHS and private speech therapists throughout his school days to help him with school. He tried hypnotherapy. However, nothing seemed to work. Paul says: “I’d given up hope of ridding myself of the suffocating stammer and gave in to the crippling thought that I would have to avoid, substitute and hold back for the rest of my life.” Then one blustery Saturday evening, a few years after leaving school, Paul was watching a show on television called Pop Idol, searching for the next pop star, when a young lad from Bradford called Gareth Gates stepped before the judges.

Paul remembers: “Gareth couldn’t say his name for the judges, but could sing wonderfully without hesitation. “It was like a light bulb moment. Before that, I had felt like no one truly understood what I was going through. “I could relate to Gareth Gates – the stuttering, not the wonderful singing.” The following week, the Pop Idol show did a piece on Gareth attending a speech improvement course called the McGuire Programme and the results were spectacular. Paul explains: “He wasn’t cured, but he was in control and sounded far more eloquent than before.

“I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and my mother booked me on the next available course.” In April 2002, Paul finally plucked up the courage to attend his first ever McGuire Programme speech improvement course in Edinburgh.

The four-day intensive course gave Paul both the physical and psychological tools to deal with his stutter, speaking situations and mindset. Paul says: “The biggest thing I took away from Edinburgh was the thought that things could actually be different.

“Different because I could chat with the person opposite on the train home; different because I could order the food I wanted to eat, not just the food I could say; different because I was now in control of my stutter, not my stutter being in control of me.

“I had well and truly broken free of the shackles of stammering.” With the introduction of a new breathing technique called “Costal Breathing”and a traditional psychological approach called “Non Avoidance”, the McGuire Programme helped Paul understand the reasons why he stammered and showed him ways of overcoming it.

The four-day residential course strips the participant’s speech right back and wipes the speaking slate clean before getting them to embrace the new methods and techniques with the support of coaches and instructors who have themselves been through the programme, so understand what they are going through. Paul explains : “The McGuire Programme isn’t a cure and doesn’t give you fluency, but with courage and determination, you can achieve  strong, eloquent speech.

“Since I graduated from my first course in Edinburgh in 2002, I’ve been on countless other McGuire courses to brush up my technique and give something back to the incredible programme that has given me so much. “Some years ago, I applied for and achieved the Certified Primary Coach status, allowing me to be a mentor and coach to new graduates. “Then in 2012, I applied for and achieved Course Instructor status, giving me the opportunity to guide nervous new students through their first course and into the amazing world of eloquent speech.

“After instructing two UK courses in 12 months, I was given the privilege of instructing the first ever McGuire Programme intensive course in Bangalore in India, something I never dreamt I’d be doing.”

Away from the McGuire Programme, Paul has faced his fears, done battle with his stammer and done things most fluent speakers would be nervous of. He has done radio and television interviews, been voted as president of his local Association of Speakers Club (ASC) for two years in a row and won speaking competitions.

Paul has now actually gone on to coach Gareth Gates and the pair have coached each other.

For Paul, one of the most momentous occasions since overcoming his stammer was giving a reading at his nephew Lucas’s christening in front of his family. Paul says: “I did the reading in front of my younger brothers in the very church I avoided participating in nativity plays. “This allowed me to cancel those avoided situations from primary school and it is now wonderful to be able to read a bedtime story to my beautiful nephew as he falls asleep in my arms.

“My life is far brighter now than it has ever been and I have a few things to thank for that: the McGuire Programme, the friends and inspirational stories I’ve met and heard on its courses, my courage and determination for not losing sight of my ultimate goal of eloquent speech and most of all, my family and loved ones for giving me endless love and support throughout my journey. “No matter what difficulties you face, no matter what holds you back, no matter how challenging life gets, you’ll find a way of achieving your dreams if you have the courage and perseverance to see it through.”

(The Lancashire Evening Post August 4, 2014).