Course helps Sheffield man William Young to overcome his stammer after years of misery

A programme of help for stammerers has transformed the life of one young Sheffield man for whom the simple act of ordering a coffee could turn into a nightmare.
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William Strong, aged 25, lives in Nether Edge and works as an administrator for a small photography company in Kelham Island.

He struggled to cope with his stammer until a self-help programme for stammerers featured on a TV documentary finally gave him the tools to help.

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William said: “I had a stammer from the age of 11. I first noticed it when I didn’t really like the sound of my own voice on a voicemail message.

A look of elation from William Strong while speaking from a soapbox at the end of the course that finally helped him cope with his stammerA look of elation from William Strong while speaking from a soapbox at the end of the course that finally helped him cope with his stammer
A look of elation from William Strong while speaking from a soapbox at the end of the course that finally helped him cope with his stammer

“I listened back to myself and thought ‘that’s not me, that’s someone trying to imitate me’. That’s the point where I thought, ‘I don’t really like that. I want something to change’.”

Years of frustration followed, said William.

“I went to NHS speech therapy for many years to try and cure it but I would go into the sessions every few weeks and speak absolutely brilliantly and then come out and stammer my way through the time outside the session and then go in and speak brilliantly and be amazing.

“It would keep going like this over and over again. My parents would say, ‘why don’t you speak like this at home?’”

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He continued: “When I got to secondary school it used to really, really hold me back a lot. People would ask questions in class and I wouldn’t have the confidence when I was younger to put my hand up in class and ask questions, because of the fear of being embarrassed by my stammer.

“I didn’t end up participating as much as I would have wanted to. That was a really big thing at school for me, not really being the person I really wanted to be because of my speech impediment.”

Other pupils started to imitate William and he remembers going home in tears.

“To hear other people trying to copy or mimic was just really heartbreaking. I thought, ‘I’m working so bloody hard here’.”

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At university, William had to ask people to bear with him when there were long gaps in his speech or he spoke in blocks of words, and not to interrupt him.

In lectures he would freeze up completely when he had to say something, so it was easier not to bother.

William’s life began to change in 2018 when he saw a TV documentary, School for Stammerers, about the McGuire programme of intensive speech therapy.

He said: “I turned to my parents and said, ‘this sounds really good. Can we look into the possibility of getting me on a course to help with it?’.”

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William faced a frustrating wait of several months before the next course began.

In the meantime, one of his most humiliating moments happened.

“I had a situation in Starbucks where I’d come up to a counter and ordered what I wanted. I got to the counter to pay for it and they said, ‘What can we get for you?’

“I couldn’t even say what it was. It took me at least five to 10 minutes. I was thinking, ‘oh no, not again’. If I’m freezing I get stuck on certain words and sounds.

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“By that time the whole shop was full of people waiting, waiting, waiting. I turned to them and said in my head, ‘I’m trying the best I can here. Just bear with us’.

“I came home again and burst into floods of tears.”

The course couldn’t come soon enough for William.

He spent four days on a residential course, where the programme leaders taught the stammerers how to breathe from a certain part of their diaphragm.

A key part was explaining about the psychology of stammering but there was also a set of challenges.

“They say to be proud of your stammer. Go and tell people you’ve got it and use the techniques taught on the course to show people you have a stammer and you’re working on your speech.”

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Tutors took their pupils out on to the streets to meet strangers and do just that.

William said it was tough but it worked and practice made it a lot easier.

The biggest challenge at the end was to stand on a soapbox in public and talk about the course. William said he was shaking but was elated afterwards.

He now goes regularly to top-up courses and has also trained to help others. “The programme has really given me a lot more confidence to be able to be who I want to be and do almost anything.

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“You know that you’ve got the tools and the techniques to help you, now you can go and use them anywhere and there’s no limit to where you can take this.

“I did a radio interview last week for the first time ever. That was quite extraordinary. I was absolutely bricking it beforehand. I was so nervous. I thought, ‘what have I done?’

“I went down and they were all lovely with me. They were all really gold standard.

“I got a lot of feedback from people to say how brave I was. It’s one thing I’ve always wanted to be able to do. It’s another box ticked in the targets for why I want to do this.”

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William said: “I feel incredibly happy with where my speech is at. Whenever I push it to the next level, it’s always a big pat on the back, I’ve done that really well. ”

He summed up his advice for others: “Always believe in yourself. Never give up because there is always help out there.”

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