Stuttering is a hidden disability affecting about 1 per cent of the global population. And for many people who stutter, the world can be an intimidating and isolating place.
As a stutterer myself, I used to feel anxious and embarrassed every time I spoke. I felt alone and as though no one understood my situation. I left school and chose a college course that involved little to no speaking, even though what I really wanted to do was to become a teacher.
Then, nine years ago, I found a therapy course called the McGuire Programme, which is unique because it’s run for people who stutter by people who stutter. After my first session, everything changed. I no longer felt alone. I had support from a community of people who knew what I was feeling.
The programme taught me techniques to control my stutter, both physical and physiological. The physical strategies include a new way to breathe when speaking and an assertive tone when speaking – no holding back. The physiological strategies are about defeating the negative associations I had built up around speaking.
This includes speaking “dysfluently” – a term for disruptions in the flow of speech – in a controlled way. Being dysfluent on my own terms has given me the confidence to speak differently to other people. It has helped me to stop hiding and accept myself as a person who stutters. My new-found speaking technique has given me the ability to control – not cure – my stutter and to become a successful teacher. I work in a busy primary school, and I’m very open about my disability with parents and students alike.
If you teach pupils who stutter, the most important advice I can give is to focus on all the things they do well and not get hung up on their stutter. Are they a good listener? Do they work well in a group? Do they record information well? When they speak, are they concise and to the point? These are all positives I wish I had read in my school reports.
Giving a person with a stutter time to speak is so important: we don’t want people to finish our sentences. We have a voice and we want to use it. As uncomfortable as it may be, think about the child. If they are brave enough to speak in front of the class, then please show them the courtesy of not interrupting them.
Stuttering, like many conditions, cannot be cured, so it’s important to embrace it. When you accept yourself for who you really are, you can start being who you really want to be. I think that’s the message to pass on to children – embrace your quirks, as they make you who you are.
Adam Black is a teacher at Shawlands Primary School in Glasgow and an equality and diversity representative for education services in the city