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A-Level dilemma

Gemma Clarke | 01.02.2013

Choosing which A-Level subjects to take can be difficult for young people who stammer, especially as the decision can shape future careers. Speech and Language Therapist Gemma Clarke from the Michael Palin Centre sent us this article written for Speaking Out by one of her 15 year-old clients (name withheld), expressing her anxieties.

Recently I had to decide which subjects to study for my A-Levels next year. Unlike my friends, not only was I faced with the question of which subjects I enjoyed the most and which I am best at, but at the back of my mind there was also the question of my stammer - which subjects would involve the fewest discussions, presentations and oral exams? I needed to find a balance between choosing subjects that I love and subjects in which I feel comfortable.

I love French; it has always been one of my favourite subjects at school. However, I wasn’t sure if I could endure putting myself through two stressful years of the fear of waiting to be asked a question in class which I couldn’t possibly answer. I might hate myself for it later. In addition to this, I wondered whether there was any point in me spending two years studying French; am I capable of pursuing a career in languages? Speaking is such an important part of learning a language, and I dread speaking in front of people due to my stammer. Even if I was completely comfortable speaking with a stammer, one of the main parts of a career in languages would be interpreting, which requires you to be able to speak quickly and clearly.

On the other hand, my stammer is going to affect me in any lesson at school, so surely I should choose my A-Levels purely upon my enjoyment of the subjects. Because of this dilemma, I am still undecided about whether to continue with French next year (I wrote on the form that I would, but I can change my mind at any point). It frustrates me a great deal; I wish that deciding my A-Levels were based merely on what it should be - my ability in the subjects and my enjoyment of them.

19 year-old Caroline Wadham gives personal advice after going through the same experience.

When I chose my A-Levels, I had to consider how my stammer would impact upon my grades and if my confidence could stand having to take a subject in which you have to speak a lot as part of the course. However, this in no way impeded my decision; two subjects I chose were drama and Spanish. Consequently, there was no escaping the fact that I would have to do some talking.

Having a stammer is something that is part of you. It shouldn’t be hidden away and it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a subject that you really enjoy. When it came to taking my A2 Spanish speaking exam, my teachers were extremely understanding and I found that the exam board took my stammer into account, therefore it didn’t impact upon my final grade. In fact my result for the speaking exam was higher than my listening and writing exams.

I do understand that it’s difficult to put this idea into motion; there were times when I really wished I didn’t stammer. But I found that choosing subjects that would highlight my stammer made dealing with it easier. I got used to people’s reactions and it helped me to be more accepting of my stammer. Taking subjects in which I had to talk prepared me for reactions in the real world. Additionally, I found that the sense of achievement I got when speaking in class was worth the worry beforehand.

If you have to decide what A-Levels to take, don’t in any way let your stammer impact upon your decision. Teachers and exam boards have ways to help you and make you feel more at ease in difficult situations. The best advice I can give is to think of what subject you would choose if you didn’t stammer and then choose it anyway.

BSA Education Officer Cherry Hughes says:

There are really no constraints that should prevent a student who stammers considering careers that are appropriate to their aptitude and ability. We know of people who stammer in practically every career and profession. It is having the confidence and self-esteem to manage the stammer that allows for choices to be based on ability and aptitude. A student who is worried about doing oral examinations should talk to the teacher about what will be involved as early as possible and ask that teacher to contact the Joint Council for Qualifications to find out what adaptations can be offered in case they are needed. Support from a therapist will be needed to secure these.

From the Spring 2013 edition of Speaking Out, p15