Stuttering is a hidden disability, and one that affects about 1% 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, trapped, and scared.
I have stuttered for as long as my parents can remember – first it would be repetition of sounds, and then full words. Sometimes, when trying to ask or tell them something, full minutes would go by without me being able to finish the short sentence. But personally, it wasn’t until I was around nine years old and reading Charlotte’s Web out loud in class that I really noticed. I just couldn’t get the words out, and if I did they were very different to others’ in the class. Thereafter, years of conventional therapy made little impact on my progress, and I 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 I didn’t enjoy meeting new people. I stopped going to football and rugby, and would only go to parties if I knew a close group of friends were going to act as a safety net for me.
The thought of leaving school to go to university was making me quite anxious. The thought of introducing myself to all the new people was a scary prospect. How would I manage asking where lecture halls were? How would I make friends? How would I answer in class? Would I benefit from the social scene at university? These questions were spinning in my head, and I found myself fixating on them.
I really wanted to be a teacher and to help pupils, especially those with support needs, but knew I wouldn’t get through the teaching side of the course – too much speaking was involved, so I chose a course that involved little-to-no public interaction instead. I will admit I was too scared to pursue teaching at that point.
I ended up enjoying my undergraduate course in Sports Development and met a few lifelong friends, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had to do something about my speech, and my mindset in relation to what I could achieve.
I enrolled in an intensive therapy course called ‘The McGuire Programme’ in March 2007. This programme focuses on a new way of breathing, called costal breathing, when speaking. The idea is that this gives power behind a breath, and helps you to control what you’re saying. It’s done in tandem with psychological techniques – mainly accepting yourself as a person with a stutter on your own terms.
This acceptance 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 in the room, the more you try to 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 negative impact on how I live my life. Being honest about who I was and embracing my stutter changed my life.
At this point, I decided I had enough speech control to follow my dream, and I applied for teacher training. In my interview, I was able to describe how growing up in Glasgow with a stutter shaped my education and my friendships, and how I had an understanding of how some pupils with an additional needs might feel. They told me that my openness about my own struggles was refreshing, and they thought I’d be a great candidate for the course – nobody had ever said that about my stutter before.
“Being honest about who I was and embracing my stutter changed my life”
I’ve now been teaching for more than 10 years. I’m in a dream role as a teacher of learning support in a busy secondary school – helping the very children I always wanted to. I’ve pushed myself, and have given speeches as a best man and at my own wedding. I’ve even presented at academic conferences! My wife and I now have two children, and I read to them every night – there is no better feeling for my mental health than sitting and reading a story to them, and it’s something I never thought I would do.
I still stutter, and I still struggle on certain words or sounds. The difference is that I now deal with these positively, and don’t feel defined by my stutter as I did before. Taking control of my speaking has given me control of how I really feel – I’m happier, more outgoing, and live a full life, which is something I wasn’t doing before.
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, to focus on the things they can do really well – celebrating the positives can do so much for a child.
“I now have two children, and I read to them every night – there is no better feeling for my mental health than sitting and reading a story to them, and it’s something I never thought I would do”
Parents of children I teach really like the fact that I’m open and honest about my own quirks – 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 – it might have the same positive impact on your mental health as it did for me. The moment I stopped hiding from who I really was, was the moment I started to enjoy life that little bit more. It’s fine to be different, in fact it is good to be different. To stand out for positive reasons, that once had negative associations is really empowering. Embrace your quirks; they make you who you are.
Adam’s story is a brilliant example of how accepting who we are and sharing this with the world encourages external acceptance too. Having more confidence in our abilities allows us to help others as well.
As a qualified voice coach, I work with people everyday who are dealing with challenges when it comes to speaking publicly. It’s so important that we find a way to share what we have to say and take our place in the world. As Adam found, being able to be heard is truly liberating, and means that we can go on to achieve our ambitions and dreams.
To connect with a counsellor to discuss a stutter, visit counselling-directory.org.uk
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