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with one voice

Stammering in Ireland: "It was ignored in the family - nobody talked about it"

It’s National Stammering Awareness Day today.

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“Stammering is like an iceberg – you can see and hear a small proportion of it – like blocks, prolongation and repetition – but underneath you might have embarrassment, frustration, avoidance of speaking. And even just talking about stammering can be hugely positive for people, and if they can start doing that, it raises it up, the iceberg starts to melt and the impact is not so significant.” – Jonathon Linklater, a speech and language therapist and development manager for the ISA

WHEN VERONICA LYNCH’S parents noticed she was stuttering as a young child, they took her to the doctor.

This was back in the 1960s. ”My mum brought me to the GP, who said ‘don’t draw attention to it, just ignore it - it will go away’. That was the wisdom at the time,” said Lynch, who is the chair of the Irish Stammering Association (ISA).

“It was ignored in the family – nobody talked about it, nobody addressed it. I started to hide it as best I could.”

How things have changed

Today, Lynch is the founder of a kids’ drama group (ISAYiT!), women’s phone group and women’s leadership project, and parents’ support network as part of her IAS work.

She has a teenage daughter who stammers, and has seen how the approach to stammering has changed greatly in 40 years.

Around 5% of children will stammer. It is a condition characterised by sound repetitions, prolongations and blocks in its early stages.

While some children will recover from stammering, around 1% of adults continue to stammer.

“When my daughter started stammering she was quite young and I would have been quite sensitive to it, but immediately I knew to talk to the public health nurse,” said Lynch.

Her daughter was able to get early intervention, and speech and language therapy. The approach today is worlds away from what it was when Lynch was a child.

What they said to me was: ‘Look, this is something that is part of her life. Talk to her about it, see how she feels about it, what are the difficulties she is experiencing. Be open about it.

“When I was growing up, stammering would have been seen as something quite amusing, or somebody who stammered would have been a figure of fun,” said Lynch.

This has changed hugely, with the result that although not everyone understands stammering, “it doesn’t have quite the same stigma”.

In addition, there are more people in public life who stammer, such as Gareth Gates, Pronsias de Rossa and Rowan Atkinson, which has helped raise awareness, as have films like The King’s Speech.

Treatment and issues

There are speech and language therapy services available around Ireland, but the waiting lists for them can vary.

“Once you can access them, they are very good, but for a child who is stammering, it depends on the area you live in in the country.”

Lynch’s daughter has recently had a two-year gap in speech and language therapy.

The association and speech and language therapists advise that early intervention is key.

“However you could have a four-year-old who needs to access speech and language therapy and they could wait, depending on the area they are in, from six months to a year and a half. That can have major implications for a child who is going through a rapid rate of development, not just in speech but in communication and starting school.”

Lynch added that people think stuttering is “only a little thing” but said “if your self esteem is affected, if your ability to participate in school is affected, if your abilty to participate in sport, your whole social development is affected, it can have a much wider impact than people realise”.

She said that services through the HSE or Department of Health for adults who stammer are “almost non-existent”.

At IAS they give non-therapy support to people, through initiatives such as a women’s leadership project.

“It’s for women who stammer to have an opportunity to recognise their own strengths and to become role models for other women,” said Lynch.

Linklater said that they hold Skype groups for teens who stammer, and also phone groups for men and women, so that people around the country can avail of their services.

He explained that anyone can benefit from speaking about their stammering. “It doesn’t matter if a kid is seven or an adult is 70, there is still hope for easier speech.”

He said that the ISA also advises parents to get their children into the system and on waiting lists for services.

What’s on today?

The eighth National Stammering Awareness Day will take place in Jury’s Inn Customs House, Customs House Quay, Dublin 1 from 10am – 4.30pm today.

It will feature over a dozen speakers from Ireland, UK, USA, and Sweden talking about their experiences of stammering and giving support and tips.

Sessions throughout the day also include:

  • Parents’ Support Network with speech and language therapists (12.20pm)
  • ISAYiT! drama project with Gaiety School of Acting for kids and teens who stammer (11am)
  • Teenage talk session (2.40 pm)

National Stammering Awareness day is free to attend and all are welcome: people who stutter, family members, friends, and professionals who work with stuttering.

Read: Drama camps to give a new voice to young people with stammers>

Read: Opinion: Stuttering is unforgiving – it never rests – but despite it I’ve found my true voice>

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