Stuttering is a hidden disability and one that affects 1 per cent of the world’s population. For many people who stutter, the world can be an intimidating place to live and one where a stutterer can feel isolated.
I have stuttered for as long as my parents can remember. It wasn’t until I was around 9 and reading out in class that I really noticed – I just couldn’t get the words out and, if I did, they were very different to those coming out of the mouths of other pupils. Years of conventional therapy had made little impact on my progress and I still stuttered quite evidently.
I really hated my stutter. I would avoid speaking at all costs, change words, avoid certain sounds. I never spoke out in class and didn’t enjoy meeting new people. The thought of leaving school to go to university was making me quite anxious – the thought of all the new people to introduce myself to was a scary prospect.
I really wanted to be a teacher but knew I wouldn’t get through the teaching side of the course – too much speaking was involved, and so I chose a course that involved little to no public interaction. I ended up enjoying my undergraduate course in sports development but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had to do something about my speech.
I ended up enrolling on an intensive therapy course called the McGuire Programme in March 2007. It focuses on a different way of breathing when speaking – costal breathing – which gives power behind a breath and helps you control what you’re saying. This is done in tandem with psychological techniques, mainly accepting yourself as a person with a stutter on your own terms.
Learning to accept my stutter was something I found challenging at first but now I fully embrace it and openly show myself to be a person with a stutter. Like an elephant under the table, the more you try and ignore it the more obvious it is that it’s there. With my stuttering, the more I show that I’m comfortable speaking in a different way, the less it bothers me, and now it doesn’t have any impact on how I live my life.
I decided that I had enough speech control to follow my dream and I applied for teacher training. My new speaking technique has held up under the scrutiny of Glasgow classrooms and I’ve been teaching now for nine years. I have pushed myself and have given speeches as a best man and at my own wedding. I’ve even presented at academic conferences, where people are happy to sit and listen to me – a person with a stutter!
Stuttering has definitely helped me as a teacher. I know what it is like to be overlooked in class because of difficulties: some of my teachers chose to see my stutter and not my other qualities. With this in mind, I’m always looking past what conditions children might have and instead look for what things they can do really well – to celebrate the positives can do so much for a child.
Parents of children I teach really like the fact that I’m open and honest about my own quirks, as it shows them that if I can overcome my struggle then there is hope for their children to do the same.
My final message is always to embrace your quirks – they make you who you are. Nobody told me that as a child, and I really wish they had.
Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland and, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for services to raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23