MARTIN SMITH: Stammer can make you stutter in life

Doncaster Select Rugby Team. Back L-R-Wayne Rafferty, Paul Purnell, Gareth Everton, Craig Hookway, Mark Roach, Mick Rodgerson, Nick Tesh, Craig Lawton, Gavin Millward and Steve Mills. Front L-R-Tom Brandham, Ryan Rafferty, Alex Palmer, Kev Lake, Craig Whincop, Danny Hornsby, Scott Smith, Tom Holt, Dave Ford, Shaun Richards. Picture: Holly Allen.
Doncaster Select Rugby Team. Back L-R-Wayne Rafferty, Paul Purnell, Gareth Everton, Craig Hookway, Mark Roach, Mick Rodgerson, Nick Tesh, Craig Lawton, Gavin Millward and Steve Mills. Front L-R-Tom Brandham, Ryan Rafferty, Alex Palmer, Kev Lake, Craig Whincop, Danny Hornsby, Scott Smith, Tom Holt, Dave Ford, Shaun Richards. Picture: Holly Allen.
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IMAGINE having to get off the bus at a distant stop because you can’t say the name of the stop you actually want.

IMAGINE having to get off the bus at a distant stop because you can’t say the name of the stop you actually want.

Pictured is Cllr Vic Bowden with her husband John for Feature on Stammering

Pictured is Cllr Vic Bowden with her husband John for Feature on Stammering

How about only eating food you can say the name of rather than what you actually want when you order in a restaurant?

Then there’s having to use a false name because you can’t say your own.

Welcome to the world of the stammerer.

Laughed at in school, historically dismissed as stupid and left to struggle in a world of anxiety and devastated confidence, the lot of the stammerer has never been an easy one.

Undated Handout Photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing a white dress in the now classic scene from The Seven Year Itch. This picture features in Fabulous Frocks, by Jane Eastoe and Sarah Gristwood, published by Pavilion Books, priced �25. Available now. See PA Feature FASHION Dresses. PA Photo/Pavilion Books.

Undated Handout Photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing a white dress in the now classic scene from The Seven Year Itch. This picture features in Fabulous Frocks, by Jane Eastoe and Sarah Gristwood, published by Pavilion Books, priced �25. Available now. See PA Feature FASHION Dresses. PA Photo/Pavilion Books.

Highlighted brilliantly in the Oscar-nominated film The King’s Speech, the issue of stammering is on the national and international agenda as never before.

Stammering, or stuttering, is a problem for one per cent of the population worldwide - although it’s three times more likely in boys than girls.

It is thought to be caused if the parts of the brain called synapses that transmit information through electrical signals do not develop as they should in a child.

Information is not properly transmitted between parts of the brain and a stammer is the result.

Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (New Series).'There are no sets, no costumes, no orchestra and no rules.'Picture shows: Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (New Series).'There are no sets, no costumes, no orchestra and no rules.'Picture shows: Jonathan Miller

Ancient ‘cures’ for stammering include drinking water from a snail shell for the rest of one’s life, reduced lovemaking (for men) and ‘hitting a stammerer in the face when the weather is cloudy’.

Stammerers have been thought to be weak minded, stupid or in league with the devil.

Councillor John Bowden is none of these.

Originally from Liverpool, 63-year-old John grew up as an embarrassment to his parents because of his stammer.

Sleep

Sleep

“I had a very negative reaction from my parents who felt that I was embarrassing them,” said Sheffield Hallam University German lecturer John.

“Neither of them really understood stammering and thought ‘If you can’t say it properly, don’t bother saying it at all.’ It does make you feel stupid and you think ‘I can’t even say my name or simple things’. It takes a long time to overcome those innermost feelings.”

But stammerers have their own dark sense of humour and survival techniques.

“At school, there were three stammerers in our class and we used to envy each other’s names. I used to say if my name was Alan Aitchison, I’d be able to say it dead easy and he would say if he had my name he wouldn’t have any problems. There is a joke at the British Association of Stammerers where we say ‘We don’t take minutes at our meetings, we take hours.’

“In most cases, it’s not as simple as not being able to say C or B, it’s not a specific letter.

“The King’s Speech is raising awareness of disfluency and stammering and how people feel about it. It’s a brilliant film that shows stammering the way it is and helps people join the debate about it.

Undated Handout Photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing a white dress in the now classic scene from The Seven Year Itch. This picture features in Fabulous Frocks, by Jane Eastoe and Sarah Gristwood, published by Pavilion Books, priced �25. Available now. See PA Feature FASHION Dresses. PA Photo/Pavilion Books.

Undated Handout Photo of Marilyn Monroe wearing a white dress in the now classic scene from The Seven Year Itch. This picture features in Fabulous Frocks, by Jane Eastoe and Sarah Gristwood, published by Pavilion Books, priced �25. Available now. See PA Feature FASHION Dresses. PA Photo/Pavilion Books.

“Usually in films stammering is done for comedy effect, like Open All Hours on TV, but Colin Firth actually shows how people stammer and what people thought about stammering 70 years ago.

“A lot of what they believed then is now thought to be wrong. Now we have brain scans and more sophisticated techniques. Scientists also believe they have identified three genes common in stammerers.

“There is a 90 per cent success rate with stammerers if it is addressed as soon as it becomes clear there is a problem.

“Past a certain age and you cannot change things. After that age, people are learning to live with it and deal with it but if they can get to it soon enough it can be overcome.”

John overcame his own issues when he, prompted by his wife Coun Vic Bowden, had speech therapy as a 30-year-old and discovered that treatment and ‘coming out’ about his stammer helped him overcome its debilitating effects.

But not before he got into a few scrapes.

“One time, I was queuing at a Greyhound bus station in Canada,” said father-of-three John.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say: ‘I’d like a return ticket to Toronto, please.’

I got in the queue and out of it again three times throughout the day but I couldn’t face it. In the end I made a little sign that said ‘Deaf mute, return ticket to Toronto please.’

“The man behind the counter looked a bit puzzled, gave me the ticket in silence and I took it in silence but when I got it I was so relieved I said ‘Thanks very much mate,’ and left.”

stars of film, tv and politics have struggled

MANY stammerers find a way to overcome their condition.

Some household names and film stars such as Jonathan Miller, Nicholas Parsons, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Rowan Atkinson are or were stammerers.

Shadow Chancellor of The Exchequer Ed Balls this week came out as a stammerer.

“Stammerers can become outwardly very confident,” said Sheffield stammerer and university lecturer John Bowden.

“Their vocabulary is wider than most people because they have had to think of different ways of saying things, rather than get stuck.

“You become confident because you have to deal with situations.”

The Bowdens’ son, Nic, is the only one of their three children with a stammer.

“I had speech therapy from being eight years old and it helped me a lot - as did a lot of actor training which is about breathing and timing,” said 26-year-old Nic.

“ I didn’t know my dad had a stammer until I started stammering myself.

“He has learned to overcome and so am I.”

John adds: “Stammerers approach things in different ways to get round their problem.

“They might talk funny or posh and stammerers are often quite shy or they are the class clown who won’t shut up.

“I was a class clown and would use different accents and play roles.

“There is not one personality type of stammerer, you can be extrovert or introvert, that’s not what causes the stammer.

“Some people put themselves in positions where they meet it head on but a lot are doing things and wish they were doing something else.

“It limits your horizons if you stammer unless you find ways to overcome it.”

don’t make it ‘a problem’

WHAT should you do if you or your child has a stammer? Sheffield’s speech therapy services can be accessed via their website at www.sheffield.nhs.uk/slt/children and the British Stammerers Association gives this advice.

Show your child that you are interested in what he says, not how he says it. Try to maintain natural eye contact when he is having difficulty talking. Don’t finish his sentences - this can be frustrating for him.

Be supportive. Respond to a speech difficulty in the same way that you would with any other difficulties and slow down your own rate of speech when you talk to your child.

Be encouraging if your child gets upset about her speech, just as you would if she was upset about any other difficulty. You might say something like ‘Don’t worry, talking can be tricky sometimes when you’re still learning.’

Observe your child’s speaking patterns but try to resist seeing it as a ‘problem’.

Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your full attention to your child in a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Reduce the number of questions you ask. Always give your child plenty of time to answer one question before asking another.

Take turns to talk so that everyone in the family can speak without being interrupted. Respond to your child’s behaviour in the same way that you would with a child who does not stammer.

Try to avoid a hectic and rushed lifestyle. Stammering can increase when your child is tired.

For more information go to www.stammering.org/parents_help.html

Pictured is Cllr Vic Bowden with her husband John for Feature on Stammering

Pictured is Cllr Vic Bowden with her husband John for Feature on Stammering