On Tuesday November 8th, Lincs Inspire is hosting a free workshop for members and non-members to find out more about a neurological condition that, according to a poll in 2020, affects up to four per cent of the UK adult population – stammering.
Defined by STAMMA, the British Stammering Association, a stammer is “when someone repeats, prolongs or gets stuck when trying to say sounds or words…It is different from the occasional repetition that everybody experiences.”
Since around the age of five years old, Wendy Ronaldson has stammered, affecting how she has been able to express herself. In early life, this led to feelings of frustration and being unable to move forward. However, since starting speech therapy with Christine in 2012, she has a renewed and ever-changing perspective. Her purpose is to help society, therapists, people who stammer and the wider public.
The following are excerpts taken from the first of a four-part publication, titled ‘Balance and Beauty in Stammering Therapy’. You can find out more about Wendy and Christine’s full story during the workshop.
Wendy said: “My journey as a stammerer has brought many challenges. We have stammered since the age of around five years old. I say “we” because I also have an identical twin who stammers. We are very close, but the strange thing is we never spoke about stammering to each other. My parents and siblings did not talk about their feelings, let alone about stammering. There were rules to be lived by. There was a sense that we just had to “toughen up” and “stop whingeing”.
All through mainstream school we got bullied. Stammering was more of a taboo subject back then. This drove me to hide my stammer. School was really difficult; everything took twice as long, and I felt I was on catch-up. I was not aware that I was dyslexic when I started stammering therapy. I have been diagnosed since going to university; a similar time to starting stammering therapy.
After leaving school, I ventured into factory work and jobs behind the scenes where less speaking was involved. I couldn’t talk about my stammering; I was ashamed of stammering and found lots of avoidance strategies to stay fluent. My friends classed me as shy and boring, and I was nicknamed “The Listener!” because I was often silent.
I joined an art group at thirty-eight and began drawing and painting. I enjoyed being in a group, but I did not really fit in because I found communication difficult. I decided to paint at home. I remember chatting to an acquaintance about my artwork. A load of rubbish came spewing out of my mouth just so I could stay fluent. I left the house calling myself a “stupid cow”. This was a turning point, which led to exploring my actions and confronting myself.
I think I felt stupid because my problem was invisible, and I did not talk about it. I looked normal, I sounded normal, I knew I was hiding my stammer, but I didn’t feel normal. I had never heard anyone else stammer except my twin. I thought we were the only two people who stammered.Wendy
I had started to talk to my twin about stammering but I still felt stuck. I was looking for change in my life, things couldn’t go on as they were. I had to do something.
I decided to enrol on a fine arts degree course; a significant move forward in my life. I was determined. It was something I needed to do. I later found out there were tutorials and presentations to be made. I could not face these. They meant talking in front of other students and to the tutor in tutorials. Even sitting informally, I still felt unable to talk, or chat out loud.
With no answers to my predicament, I reluctantly went to speech therapy…”
Christine Handsley is a retired Speech and Language Therapist. She started working with Wendy in 2012. From a background of specialist training, developing experience and a flexible approach, a therapeutic relationship was able to be nurtured.
Taken from the same publication, Christine said: “It felt like Wendy’s stammering and the layers around it, often represented as an onion, were held in tightly by the skin.
I gave Wendy space to explore her stammer, understand her feelings about stammering, to acknowledge the sense of shame, to express her raw feelings of feeling “stupid”. These were very deep seated, primary motivators for change. And so, Wendy’s engagement with therapy began.
Only some time into the therapy process did I really know Wendy had begun to reflect on what we had been speaking about. It was viewing and talking about Wendy’s art which revealed the depth of her feelings about, and her growing understanding, of stammering.
Wendy gained courage from her art, understood and experienced more about stammering through the process of therapy and meeting others. Developing a vocabulary to be able to think and talk about her own and others stammering and its associated feelings, I learned more about Wendy’s experience of stammering and its impact. A world was opening up for Wendy; her own hidden world. Her art also allowed it to open up to me.Christine
Seeing the benefits of her engagement with therapy and other forms of support, Wendy’s motivations broadened and readiness for change increased.”
Having reflected on the process of speech therapy, both Christine and Wendy’s understanding has grown, and this has since led to an awareness raising partnership. The two have also become good friends.
Wendy added: “I’ve now learnt to be open about my stammer and to understand other people’s reactions to it. My life is no longer as restricted by stammering. I can “be myself and stammer””.
Hear the full story and learn more about stammering and how we can try to make the world a better place for people who stammer, at a free workshop titled Be Stammer Friendly.