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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Drama camps to give a new voice to young people with stammers

The camps are an opportunity to meet other young people with stammers, and to realise that they are not defined by their stammer.

YOUNG PEOPLE WITH stammers will be able to explore drama without stress thanks to camps run by the Irish Stammering Association this month.

Irish Stammering Association Youth Theatre (ISAYiT) will be holding week-long camps in Dublin (8 – 12 July), Cork (15 – 10 July,) and Galway, (22-26 July).

Led by teachers from the Gaiety School of Acting, the camps are a place for young people who stammer from age 8 to 16 to try acting and stagecraft.

Being themselves

Pic: Jonathon Linklater

Jonathon Linklater, development manager for the Irish Stammering Association, told TheJournal.ie that they were inspired to hold the camps after an American theatre company set up a similar programme about a decade ago.

A number of years later, the ISA teamed up with the Gaiety School of Acting to set up their own camps. The camps aren’t speech therapy, but are a way to improve children’s confidence, to give them a space where they can explore drama and theatre on their own terms.

Linklater describes it as a “place they could be themselves without having to cover up and not have to worry about stuttering”.

Previous ISAYiT! participants have said the camp offered them a chance to be themselves, to be able to talk in front of an audience, and to meet new friends.

By the end of the week, small internal transformations have often taken place.

You sometimes find that at the end of the week they are a lot more confident.

Through improvisation, games, stories and other modes of exploring theatre, the teens and children focus on the drama aspect rather than their stammer.

“I think the feedback is they can have a good time and make friends – they can be themselves,” said Linklater. “I think it’s just a chance to meet other kids who stutter as well; they get a sense that other people have stammers. Not everyone stammers in the same way. Not everyone is bothered by it.”

Confidence

The levels of confidence vary in the groups too, so the young people can learn from each other and develop their own confidence.

You can see them making changes – ‘just because I stutter, it doesn’t mean I can’t do all these things’. You can see they change that way.

One participant, a teenager, told Linklater “it was interesting because he saw how other people saw him – it wasn’t really a big deal to them so he stopped caring about his own stammering”.

“It reduces that sense of aloneness,” said Linklater, “seeing there are other people who have a similar difficulty but it doesn’t need to stop them. It normalises it.”

The young people learn that having a stutter doesn’t have to define them – they are more than the way they speak. Plus, they discover that they don’t just have to have stammering in common with each other to get along.

Speaking up

Linkater said that communication is valued in society, and so people with a stammer “often feel at a disadvantage”.

When it’s a struggle to talk, people get quite embarrassed about it. I obviously understand why people feel like that, but it’s important to speak up and say what they have to say.

He pointed to a moment in the film The King’s Speech – which is about King George VI, who had a stutter – when the the King acknowledges: “I have a voice”.

“That was a really strong theme in that film,” said Linklater. “People who stutter do have a voice and they need to speak up.”

People who don’t stutter or stammer can often feel unsure what to do when speaking to someone who does. Linklater’s advice is to:

  • Be patient
  • Give people the time they need
  • Keep eye contact

“Stammering is not often understood. It’s a neurological condition but there is a lot of psychology in it. The more you try not to stutter the more you do,” said Linklater. Underneath the action of stuttering, repetition or blocks, can be embarrassment, and unwillingness to talk.

He believes that the more people can be open about stuttering, the more it helps and relaxes them, and can help them deal with the situation. This drama camp is just one of the ways to help young people realise that life is about more than their stammer – and gives them a great time too.

The Irish Stammering Association Facebook page can be found here. The cost of the drama camp for the week is €100 per child to attend. This is subsidised by a HSE/National Lottery grant and scholarships are available – for more details contact 0851857721 or www.stammeringireland.ie

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