MY STAMMER began for no apparent reason when I was eight. A year later I started speech therapy sessions to try to overcome the problem but nothing my therapist did or said seemed to make any difference.
By the time I was 10 I’d become so self-conscious I took to going out with a notepad and pen rather than face the humiliation of trying to speak. At school the other children made fun of me and I stopped putting up my hand to answer the teachers’ questions.
As I grew up I learned avoidance tactics so I didn’t have to say the sounds and words that I struggled with. If I got stuck over words on the phone, I’d hang up and call back later, pretending there had been a fault on the line.
Even my relationships suffered as I had so little confidence and by the time I was 22, I was divorced with two young children.
Nevertheless I was determined to make something of my life and after taking an access course, I decided to go to university and train as a history teacher.
After surfing the internet I came across the McGuire Programme which famously helped pop star Gareth Gates overcome his stammer.
Devised by David McGuire, an American who used the techniques to overcome his own stammer, the programme includes breathing techniques to help sufferers control their speech, as well as assertiveness training and follow-up support. I liked the fact that the programme was recognised by the British Stammering Association and that all teachers are recovered stammerers. In 2005 I signed up for a four-day course.
Using this simple technique I was speaking fluently within just a couple of days. The course also encompassed assertiveness and confidence-building and I finally felt like I’d been given the skills to control my stammer once and for all.
I practised the breathing techniques daily and my new-found confidence helped me to qualify as a teacher.
I always tell my pupils that I have a stammer as part of the programme encourages you to accept your speech impediment rather than try to hide it. If I’m really tired at the end of the school week and I lose concentration on my breathing and lapse into a stutter my students understand what’s happening.
The other day I encouraged an 18-year-old girl to say her name without stuttering for the first time in her life.
It was a wonderful moment as learning to communicate with confidence creates so many opportunities.