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10 Downing St reception - speech by BSA Chair

Leys Geddes | 01.03.2010

This is the reply to Sarah Brown given by BSA Chair Leys Geddes at the No. 10 Downing St reception held in honour of BSA, December 2009.

This coming-together is important because it focuses on stammering, which is virtually inaudible and invisible in our society. Nobody except people who stammer, and those in the Speech and Language Therapy profession who support us, really understand how it can affect a life. So unless we speak up for ourselves, no-one else is going to do it for us. We may not be well equipped to do this, but today we have an opportunity to give it a go.

When I was a child, way back in the 50s, nobody knew anything much about stammering. Society thought it was a sign of nervousness and perhaps even a sign of a weak character; so it must have been our own fault, or our parents' fault. At that time, parents were being told to leave their children alone and they would grow out of it.

Today, a great deal has changed. However, only a small group of us are aware, for example, that the root cause is a fault in our neurological circuits or that early intervention is very successful. But out there not much has changed: there is still dreadful ignorance, blame, teasing, bullying, frustration and isolation. Very few of the 750,000 children and adults who stammer are getting the help they need. It's hard to quantify the problem, but I was talking to Dr Trudy Stewart in Leeds a couple of weeks ago. She told me that there are around 14,000 adults who stammer in her area. But how many referrals do you think there were? The answer is 197.

Some of these 750,000 people are searching on the web for information and help. They find excellent sites such as the one run by the BSA. But, when they go to NHS Direct, they find absolutely nothing about stammering. And, throughout their search, they are frequently exposed to misleading advertisments offering to cure them.

The BSA is happy to take responsibility. That's why we have our helpline, why we educate healthcare professionals about Early Intervention, why we help PCTs to improve their service, why we educate schools and why we work with the Advertising Standards Authority to stop these dreadful ads. We offer tangible support for people who stammer.

Last year the Bercow Review offered us the prospect of something for which the BSA has been campaigning for more than 15 years: an Early Intervention policy. It means that the vast majority of those children at risk of a lifetime of stammering will have the best chance of regaining fluent speech. It is a fantastic opportunity to reduce substantially the number of people who stammer. And, in the 30 years of the BSA's existence, it is the first time that a Government of whatever colour has unequivocally grasped the concept that communication would be the core life skill of the 21st century - and has acted on this.

I'd particularly like to thank four groups of people:

1.Those people, most of whom are volunteers, and are here today, who staff our helplines. They help people who stammer to find a way forward and look beyond their communication problem, find a speech and language therapist or a self-help group but, perhaps even more importantly, they help them to realise they are not alone.

2.Those who fund our work. Stammering has virtually no public profile and therefore your support is even more appreciated: we could not do the things we do without you.

3.John Bercow for his personal determination, and to Ed Balls and Alan Johnson for their vital support.

4.Those people who have come today to help us celebrate BSA's achievements, our friends and supporters and our patrons. Some of you have come a long way - for example, David Mitchell has come from Ireland and Jane Fraser, the President of the Stuttering Foundation of America, has come especially from the States.

And I'd like to welcome Jean Gross, the newly appointed Communications Champion, who will be working with the BSA, the Michael Palin Centre, the Communication Trust and Forum, I Can and Afasic to take forward the Speech and Language agenda.

There are 750,000 people out there, held back in some way by their stammering. We know that speech therapy is part of the answer for adults - and is very often a complete answer for pre-school children. So we have always been very supportive of speech therapy. But we also know that self help and the BSA, with its dedicated information resources and project management experience, provides the other half of the equation - and that together we can unleash the full potential of so many more of our people.