W..w..wotcha Dave

by David Burton, Chairperson, Hull & East Yorkshire Stammerers Self Help Group (www.speakingout.org.uk)

At the age of four years in 1954, I was taken by my Mother to the local children's Hospital to have my throat examined by a Doctor. Not being told the reasons why and not being particularly interested and always doing as I was told, I went along.

I was kept in, my Mother left and a tonsillectomy was performed upon my person and the following morning when my Mother came to collect me, I couldn't say Mother. Now make what you will of that; I've looked at Bowlby's theory of loss/attachment but the fact of the matter is that from then on I found speaking fluently nigh-on impossible.

Whilst being supported by my parents, in the sense they let me take my time and were very patient, not a lot was known about the condition and I was eventually taken to see a Speech Therapist.

This carried on into my late teens and therapies included the breathing, talking slowly and the use of a metronome with an ear piece and me talking to the beat. Yes, that appeared to work but I sounded like a robot and it gave the impression that not only did the lad have a stammer but he was deaf as well.

One strange thing happened at the age of sixteen which followed a major motor scooter accident where I suffered a fractured skull, major lacerations to my right knee and placed me in a comatose state for 6 days. I 'lost' my stammer. I was as fluent as the next person. Although my personality changed, according to my Mother, and caused me to become less patient and more critical of minor issues, I was 'normal'.

That is until I had a visit from a school friend, (none had visited for about three weeks since it was not known how serious my condition was). "Hiya Dave", the friend said and after a short exchange of jokes and things he followed on with, "See you've lost your stammer then". Like night becomes day, day suddenly became night. Oh yes, I then remembered, I had a stammer.

Always being a bit taller than my peers gave me an advantage insofar as people taking the mickey and mocking me. Also, I was good at sport so if you wanted to be in my team etc etc. But I digress, my main problem was getting 'blocks' and trying to force a word out whilst losing all the breath I had in my lungs. And often I would start to salivate and hold my hand over my mouth...not nice to do or to look at.

That and the side effect of looking more like an entrant in a gurning competition made me decide that I had to 'do' something.

I had no problem saying my marriage vows and put that down to mind over matter. I changed jobs and had to talk to members of the public...again, mind over matter but it wasn't quite right and I didn't feel comfortable.

Then I started to realise that there are many words which mean more or less the same and perhaps if I used one that I could say. Instead of 'I'm going' with the high probability of sticking on the g, I'd say' I'm off'. When meeting and shaking hands, 'Good to see you' was replaced with 'Nice to see you'. 'Better weather isn't it ' replaced with 'Fair old day, don't you think'.

These are only a minute sample of the words but when later in my life at University and giving presentations, I'd always have a flip chart and have a large percentage of the information previously written down which caused the listener/viewer to look at the chart which took the pressure off me.

I could expand even further but AM trying to be brief. Now at the age 57, I feel I have the confidence to take on any speaking challenge. The method I've used over the years has given me more belief in my own ability and now I use the avoidance method less and less because I can now say words I was originally avoiding. For example, I work in a secure residential environment for young offenders, and have done for just over ten years. None of the sixty or so staff have any idea of my history and the children would only make my life hell if they found out, but I carry out group work and telephone whoever, and include myself in discussions.

added October 5, 2007