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In praise of SLTs

Amanda Littleboy | 01.12.2013

Amanda Littleboy describes how far she has come since The King’s Speech compelled her to return to speech therapy in 2011.

Amanda LittleboyThose of us who stammer and make the decision to undergo speech therapy can find ourselves on a major life-changing journey and when we begin, none of us know quite where that journey will take us. I would like to share some thoughts and observations concerning my own experiences with therapy over the past two years and express my gratitude to those who have travelled with me along the way.

With hindsight, I can say my stammer (and I don’t just mean the part above the water line, but the entire ‘iceberg’) has gone through a number of metamorphoses over time, but none more obvious and dramatic than those which have taken place during the two years I have spent on an amazing journey with Lynne Sowden, a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) working in private practice in Guildford, my home town. Starting off as my speech therapist and now my ‘life coach’ and mentor, Lynne has shown great commitment towards helping me and being my guide on this most important adventure and I cannot thank her enough for all she has done. I won’t go into details of her work and methods (for anyone who is interested in finding out more, she has a website), suffice it to say that since I have been working with her I have learned more about myself as a person and managed to reach goals I could never have imagined possible some years ago. And I don’t just mean in terms of fluency.

“In short, I am beginning to find my voice – and I like what I am hearing!”

As we all know, stammering is a hugely complex, multi-layered problem that affects a person as a whole, undermining confidence, self-esteem and belief in our abilities to achieve our true potential. I can look back on so many years when I felt lacking in self-confidence and kept myself within well-defined comfort zones. I suffered anxiety, had few friends and experienced great discomfort in social situations which involved speaking to large numbers of people. I developed many avoidance strategies that hid my stammer but which in turn held me back, and I taught myself not to speak up unless absolutely necessary – so in group situations other people didn’t expect me to talk much and I would feel frustrated, as it often felt like I was being ignored. I lived with many psychological ‘issues’ I wasn’t aware of, but even if I had been aware, I would have had neither the knowledge nor the resources to deal with them. For a long time my stammer was covert and I admit it has been a struggle to come to terms with being more open about the problem.

Invaluable support

I am not alone in recognising that the pivotal moment for me came with The King’s Speech. Suffering a ‘speech breakdown’ around the time the film came out, and having experienced inadequate results from speech therapy in the past, I didn’t expect it could help me in a major way, but was motivated enough by the film to give it another try. I can say that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Life for me now bears little resemblance to how it did in 2011. I have learned so much about myself and the person I am capable of being; of what I have to offer others, and how to release my inner strength in order to cope with the many challenges that life presents me with.

This process has been acutely painful at times. I have had to face a number of crises – work-related difficulties, health problems, having to deal with emotional and psychological damage that I had buried deep within me. But Lynne has been with me every step of the way and with her help I have been able to face these things with courage and fortitude. As someone who would never speak up, I am now regularly giving talks to groups about stammering (and actually enjoying the experience, in spite of the nerves!) and I have been part of the BSA’s London Open Day Committee for two years in a row. I even contributed to a chapter in the recently published book Stammering Therapy from the Inside: New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults, and I regularly attend courses and events at London’s City Lit which, together with my involvement with BSA, has opened up a whole world of opportunity to me. In short, I am beginning to find my voice – and I like what I am hearing!

I have received huge encouragement from Rachel Everard, Jan Logan, Carolyn Cheasman and Matthew Mills from City Lit who, along with Lynne, continually go out of their way to give me the message ‘yes, you can do it!’ So I would like to publicly express enormous appreciation to them for everything they are doing. This is proof of the value of the work carried out by SLTs everywhere – work that is so often overlooked and undervalued by the powers-that-be, but which can and does transform lives for the good. For anyone who is an SLT, or training to become one, I applaud you – you are making such a difference!

I know my experiences with speech therapy won’t resonate with everyone. No two people are the same. But I am always encouraged and interested in hearing about the journeys of others and I hope in turn I may encourage someone else with mine. It’s important to share with each other our ups and downs, which is one of the best aspects of belonging to an organisation like the BSA – the sense that we’re all in this together and that no-one has to walk this path alone.

Mountains, onions and pearls

I have often talked about overcoming major challenges in terms of climbing mountains. Sometimes when I think of my progress over the past two years it feels like I have been tackling the Himalayas! But the view from atop those mountains is awesome and majestic, and I have now seen that view many times, thanks to those who have supported me.

Stammering is sometimes likened to an onion, with layers that require peeling back to reach the root of the problem. But nowadays I compare my own stammer with a pearl in an oyster. The pearl starts life as a piece of grit, a grain of sand that irritates and disturbs the soft body of the mollusc, which then begins to form resilient layers around it. Gradually, over time, only when the moment is right, the shell opens to reveal a thing of great beauty and value. This is why I no longer dwell on regrets about ‘wasted years’ or ‘missed opportunities’, because these thoughts serve no purpose. Instead I have discovered that in terms of speech, the irritant can be developed and turned into something precious. To everyone struggling with their speech and feeling they will never achieve anything of worth, I just say: keep on climbing the mountains and allow your pearl to grow, because you never know what you have the potential to achieve and to be – believe me, you will surprise yourself!

Amanda was recently interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live about her experiences. She said, “This is a perfect illustration of how far someone can go with the right help. I managed better than I thought because I’d spent a good hour and a half with Lynne the evening before, carefully preparing. Afterwards, when I told her I would have liked to have had more opportunity to talk, she replied, “You wanted more time to speak on the radio to millions of people?!” We both fell about laughing at THAT one!”

From Speaking Out, Winter 2011 edition, p13