|About the presenter: Alan Badmington is a former police officer and lifelong stutterer from Wales, UK. An active public speaker, he regularly addresses diverse community organizations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering. His media involvement has further brought the subject to the fore. Alan appeared as a finalist in the Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships in 2005 and 2008. He was a keynote speaker at the 7th World Congress for People Who Stutter, in Australia. (firstname.lastname@example.org)|
During recent years, I have visited several American universities to address student speech-language therapists. I speak about my personal experiences of stuttering, recounting some of the struggles that I have encountered since early childhood.
As well as reciting several of my poems, I incorporate a host of amusing anecdotes because I believe that humour can be a very useful tool with which to convey a specific message.
In order to provide the students with an insight into what it is like to live with stuttering, I touch upon such things as approach avoidance, negative self-talk, self-acceptance, assertiveness, self-esteem, self-image, emotional baggage and the stuttering mindset.
I also draw the students' attention to the importance of recognising the uniqueness of their future clients. I emphasise the need to make good use of listening skills; earn the respect of each individual; and appreciate the difficulties associated with transferring speech gains and techniques from a safe therapy environment into the outside world.
I never fail to be impressed by the enthusiasm and interest displayed by the students. They have a voracious appetite for knowledge and I am always inundated with a wide array of questions.
The seeds of this association were initially sown when I was invited to spend four days at Arkansas State University. On that occasion, I gave a series of talks that were video-recorded for future training.
Next, I travelled to Temple University in Philadelphia, where I spoke to a class of graduate clinicians who were reading my life-story as part of their studies. I returned the following year as a member of a panel drawn from the local National Stuttering Association chapter (support group). I have since widened my US connections by speaking to students at universities in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, West Virginia and Missouri. On these occasions, the presentations were given from the comfort of my own home, in Wales, via a telephone or Skype online link.
In May 2010, I completed the 11,000 miles transatlantic round trip from the UK to California, to undertake the role of guest speaker at the annual luncheon of the Santa Clara County Speech-Language Hearing Association. The event was held in Los Gatos, located in the San Francisco Bay area, and coincided with US International Stuttering Awareness Week (which is entirely distinct from the annual International Stuttering Awareness Day that is celebrated, worldwide, each October).
During the 75 minutes talk (entitled 'Lost for Words'), I spoke passionately about how stuttering impacted upon my life for so many years, outlining the restrictions imposed upon me by my disempowering beliefs and limited self image. I also shared details of the many exciting and challenging paths that I have trodden in recent times while coming to terms with my stuttering issues.
I took the opportunity to tell the audience (which comprised principally speech-language pathologists and students) that, in my opinion, simply addressing the mechanics of our speech (in isolation) has only limited value. I explained how changing my stuttering mindset had allowed me to enjoy permanent gains.
Although our long-established beliefs may be deeply entrenched, it is important to recognise that they are not set in stone. The realisation that I could reappraise (and adjust) my beliefs was hugely empowering and a cornerstone of the advances I have made during recent times.
I genuinely believe that such interaction is to our mutual benefit. I understand that many speech-language establishments now incorporate these exchanges as an integral part of their training programmes. I have found it to be a most rewarding activity that has also allowed me to expand my comfort zones. I encourage persons who stutter to seek out similar opportunities.
In addition, I have long advocated the need to create a greater public awareness about stuttering. Can we really expect others to understand what is happening, or know how to react, when we suddenly block or display secondary behaviours? In many instances, even members of our own families have little knowledge about the difficulties that we experience. Those were the reasons why I embarked upon a series of talks to community organisations. I felt it was time that the public, at large, should become better acquainted with what it is like to be a person who stutters. I also saw it as a means of challenging myself by speaking in situations that I had always avoided.
I initially prepared for the venture by joining several public speaking clubs (similar to Toastmasters International), enabling me to improve my confidence and presentational skills.
I was surprised to learn of the diverse groups that require speakers for their weekly, monthly and annual meetings. There is an insatiable demand, together with a hugely active grapevine that rapidly circulated my particulars to other organisations. But I could never have envisaged the extent to which my engagements would escalate. During the past eight years, I have addressed several hundred such bodies.
Audiences appear genuinely interested in what I have to say -the feedback is always so positive. Many of those present confide that (prior to my talk) they did not appreciate the extent to which stuttering can affect someone's life. During the question and answer sessions, and subsequent social interaction, my listeners frequently tell me that they feel better equipped for any future communication with persons who stutter. I feel that the lives of many PWS could be significantly improved if more of us were prepared to speak publicly about the subject. It really is to our mutual advantage. However, I fully appreciate that the very nature of stuttering is such that some may well feel reluctant, or unable, to discuss it with others.
Greater openness about my life-long difficulties has proved invaluable in helping me to overcome previous embarrassment. Revealing my 'darkest secret', to all and sundry, has greatly helped the desensitization process. I sincerely hope that some of you may be tempted to do likewise.
Quite apart from deriving immense personal satisfaction, you have the added incentive of knowing that your actions could be beneficial to others who stutter.