Not being able to express yourself verbally is unimaginable for most people - but it’s a debilitating reality for one per cent of adults.
A new centre in Leeds is aiming to help people with a stammer from across the region to regain their lives. Katie Baldwin reports.
SUCH a stigma surrounds stammering that sufferers can hide their struggle from even those closest to them.
One man even hid it from his wife of 25 years. He used all number of strategies to prevent her from knowing that he battled to get certain words out.
“He had changed his life so much to conceal his stammer,” consultant speech and language therapist Trudy Stewart said.
“He would do word substitution and change the order of his sentences to hide his stammer.”
Eventually he sought help and saw for himself how other couples could support each other through the condition.
He decided to tell his wife and she was very understanding. The man felt great relief and finished his therapy soon afterwards.
Dr Stewart is keen to help more people whose lives are so affected by a stammer.
Thanks to a new, unique centre in Leeds, she and her team are ideally placed to take up this challenge.
The Stammering Support Centre in Chapeltown has been set up by NHS Leeds Community Healthcare to improve services for people with a stammer across the region.
Because it helps children, young people and adults under one roof, it is unlike any other centre.
“It makes us one of the few centres which offers specialist services to all ages,” Dr Stewart said. “That’s quite exciting.”
About five per cent of children and one per cent of adults suffer from a stammer.
“That’s quite a low incidence, but the thing about stammering is the high impact it has on people’s lives,” she added.
Stammering is a communication problem characterised by disruptions which can interrupt the flow and timing of speech. Sufferers can repeat sounds, syllables or words or stretch out words.
Because speech is so integral to everyday life, a stammer can make even the simplest of day-to-day tasks extremely difficult and it means that your biggest weakness is exposed on a daily basis.
“Every time you open your mouth, you are having to think about what you are saying and how you are saying it,” Dr Stewart said.
Before the new service, based at the Reginald Centre, opened, treatment on the NHS for people with a stammer was variable.
While some areas of the region had very good services, others had none at all. Some clients had only got help after a long wait. One even waited three years after being referred for therapy by their GP but then finding there wasn’t any specialist stammering service in their area.
The new centre is aiming to change all that.
It has been set up after the former Department for Children, Schools and Families commissioned Dr Stewart to conduct a feasibility study. That showed the patchy current provision and so the team worked with NHS Yorkshire and the Humber and local primary care trusts – which fund healthcare – to develop the plans.
Capital money was given to set up the centre and funding has been secured for the next few years.
Dr Stewart said: “It means that where people are finding it difficult to access specialist services, they can contact us direct and we can see them.”
Currently there are three members of staff and there are plans to recruit additional therapists.
As well as providing therapy for people with a stammer, the team can even help prevent youngsters from developing the condition.
Children may come to the centre, which is supported by the Association for Research into Stammering in Childhood, because many have a period of non-fluency at the age of around three-and-a-half.
“Some will go on to develop a stammer and some may not,” Dr Stewart said.
“What we are able to do is and assessment which will definitively tell us whether they are at risk of going on to develop a stammer.
“If we catch them early we can be really effective in preventing them developing a problem. That makes it quite cost-effective.”
For youngsters and adults who do have a stammer, there is individual or group therapy, a self-help group and courses around specific topics like using the phone or public speaking.
The aim is to draw up a tailor-made plan of help for each person, using various techniques.
“Each client will get a programme designed for them,” Dr Stewart said.
Training for speech and language therapists is also set to be provided while the team are consulting with users over what they would like to see on offer.
The facility will mean that the north’s services for people with a stammer are on a par with the Michael Palin Centre in London, a centre of excellence for children which is supported by the actor.
His lent his name to it after playing a stammerer in 80s film A Fish Called Wanda.
Dr Stewart said that portrayals of people with a stammer in that movie and through characters like Arkwright in Open All Hours had shown sufferers being ridiculed.
However Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, about King George VI’s efforts to overcome his stammer, has changed perceptions.
“What the King’s Speech did was to enable people to get inside it and understand the impact it has on the person and their life,” she said.
“Because of that, people are aware stammering is not something to be laughed at but something that needs to be understood.”
* Contact the Stammering Support Centre via 0113 843 4331 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the condition, log on to: www.stammering.org