Health: No longer lost for words

"ORDER a train ticket, ask for a bus ticket, ring anyone I didn't know, order a meal, read to my daughter, be the focus of a conversation, introduce myself to anyone, order a drink I wanted at the bar."

That is a list of some of the things Trevor Hatib couldn't do because of his stammer.

Since he was a small boy, the difficulty he had in saying certain words had a massive impact on his life.

As well as all the things he couldn't do, there were the incidents these restrictions caused – the dental work only done on his bottom set of teeth because his orthodontist installed an intercom and he couldn't use it to get in for another appointment, the eye problem which could have led to blindness because he couldn't call the hospital to tell them how much it had worsened.

When teaching his daughter Stephanie, now 13, to count he would miss out numbers six and seven because he couldn't say them.

"It was heartwrenching at times when I would hear her count and go '1,2,3, 4, 5 and then 8'," he said.

"My wife had to say 'there's a 6 and 7 in there'."

Trevor suffered from a stammer since the age of four or five.

"I was not really aware of it myself but my parents would always tell me to slow down.

"When I was at home with friends or my parents, most of the time my speech was fine but when I was out asking for things at the shops or a bus fare, that's when there would be problems.

"From a very early age I was aware there were difficulties there.

"In my case I realised if I could avoid saying certain words, then not many people would be aware."

Therefore he became practised at avoidance techniques, such as saying where he wanted to go on the bus rather than asking for a 90p ticket, which he knew he would struggle to say. As an adult he would always drink a half of mild – because he could say that.

He said it was the fear of stammering which made the situation worse.

"You can feel the adrenaline going round – that was the fear because you are a stammerer.

"As a kid I used to walk everywhere because you don't want the embarrassment."

Stammering, or stuttering as it is known in the US, is a communication problem which is characterised by disruptions which can interrupt the flow and timing of speech. Sufferers can repeat sounds, syllables or words or can stretch out words.

"When the pressure is on – job interviews, meetings, on the phone to people I don't know – you just avoid those situations because you know it could go wrong," Trevor said.

"I started working for the Civil Service 20 years ago and to get the interview I had to phone up and confirm I would be attending. It took my two days to gee myself up to pick up the phone and say who I was."

Over the years, Trevor's life was often dictated by his

stammer.

He admits that one of the deciding factors for buying a

particular house was that he could say its address, while his

wife rang BT to get a phone number which was easier for him to manage with.

However he realised his speech was getting worse.

"The job I did changed and I was going to meetings where I would have to introduce myself," he said.

"The previous night I would be getting stressed about it."

Embarrassed

He describes trying to say his name, getting more and more

embarrassed and stressed, until finally the words come out.

In 2008 Trevor, from West Park, Leeds, was treated for an eye condition which needed an injection into his eyeball because of the delay in contacting the hospital for treatment.

Then his wife Janice, who had seen a programme about how Bradford singer Gareth Gates had overcome his stammer, suggested he needed to take action and Trevor agreed he couldn't carry on that way.

In March 2009 he went on the first of five McGuire Programme courses. The programme teaches techniques to help stammerers to recover, such as breathing in a different way to have more control and get into a rhythm of speaking.

But the 46-year-old added that the physical side was only part of it. Also crucial to overcome is the fear.

"It's the fear of speaking, where you are having to give a speech and you know you will have to say words that you cannot say," he said.

"It's the same as a fear of heights."

To conquer his fear, Trevor confronted it head on. He changed jobs to become an ICT account manager at the Highways Agency in Leeds, a role which involves dealing with senior managers and directors.

He also joined the Leeds City Toastmasters public speaking club, has become a coach for the McGuire programme and he is a member of the White Rose Rotary Club,

"It's a matter of pushing your comfort zone," he explained.

"If you keep on pushing your comfort zones then your fear goes down. The only way to deal with the fear is to go in the direction of it.

"If I feel there's a word I cannot say, then I have to go out and say that word."

Thanks to new film The King's Speech, stammering has been brought to the public's attention – which Trevor is pleased about.

"It's a disability you don't see until you open your mouth.

"The symptoms that the King had are ones that I had – the avoidance, the fear."

With publicity around the movie increasing awareness of stammering, Trevor now wants to encourage other people to get help and to be assured that things can improve.

For him, many things have changed – being able to read to his daughter, ring a taxi or order a meal.

"The programme is not a cure so there are times when my speech is bad and you have to work at it," he said.

"But you cannot put a price on being able to pick the words

you want to say and then just saying them as opposed to having to thing four of five sentences ahead, work out what words you cannot say and working out alternative words, reworking the sentences so they make sense. It's exhausting."

For more information, log on to the British Stammering

Association website at www.stammering.org. The Leeds City

Toastmasters meets at 7pm on the first and third Thursday of the month at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Wellington Street, Leeds. More on the McGuire programme is at www.mcguireprogramme.com.

STAMMERING: THE FACTS

l The cause of stammering is unknown, though appears to be a genetic link as someone with stammering in the family seems to be more like to develop a stammer. Images of brain activity shows significant differences between those who stammer and fluent speakers.

Around 1 per cent of the adult population of the UK stammers.

The condition is more prevalent in men than women.

Stammering is a communication problem which can affect confidence as well as education and employment.

People with a stammer can find it easier or more difficult to speak in different situations, such as on the phone; when saying certain words, like their name and address; when they are feeling ill, tired or upset.

Those with a stammer think at the same speed as any other person, though the way they express the thoughts may be slower.

There is no cure for stammering, though therapy can help.

More details on stammering and therapy are at www.stammering.org/generalinfo.html

20 October 2003...Leeds General Infirmary in Great George Street, Leeds. Story Jim  Seton.

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