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To stammer or not to stammer?

Tim Fell | 29.02.2016

I’m sometimes accused of being a fake.  I take that as a huge compliment.

Through a combination of speech therapy and relaxation techniques I’ve been able to control my stammer to a point that people think I’m fluent. 

But am I being disloyal to the stammering community by seeking fluency?  Should I be stammering freely, and proud of it? 

The fact is, I never found it much fun to stammer.  I get greater enjoyment out of speaking more fluently. 

The advice from some quarters is to stammer confidently.  But say that to the mum of a three-year-old who has just started to stammer, or to someone with a stammer so severe that it takes minutes to say a short sentence.  And the problem is that there’s such a spectrum of type and severity of stammer that it’s almost impossible to dispense one-size-fits-all, universal, advice.

On the surface there seems to be two, opposing, sides to the stammering debate. 

First, those who think that society should look on stammering as a normal, but different, way of speaking and as part of the rich diversity of human life.  By changing society’s attitude towards stammering, it is said that people who stammer will be more confident (and, therefore, naturally more fluent) because they have no reason to feel tense, anxious, and ashamed.

Second, those who think that stammering is a speech defect and something to be overcome, or at least improved, using the many forms of help available. 

Or to put it in academic terms, the social model versus the medical model.

It’s easy to like the social model.  It’s somehow cosy and reassuring.  It requires no effort from people who stammer.  It places responsibility squarely on society to smarten up its act. 

Not surprisingly I’m a fan of speech and relaxation therapy – examples of the medical model.  But I’d be the first to acknowledge that these interventions don’t work for everyone.   And that’s why I think the social model is so important, too.

And yet, I fear that people who stammer could expect too much of a society which is confronted by a legion of human problems and disabilities.  Yes, society should celebrate diversity.   But don’t people who stammer, too, have a responsibility to use whatever help there is to mitigate the difficulties they have?  It’s a two-way thing.

Acceptance, treatment, awareness - you’ll find all views expressed here in the BSA .  The BSA supports and advises people who stammer and their families who are urgently, sometimes desperately, seeking help.  Today.  But it also works tirelessly to change society’s attitude towards stammering.  The irony for me, of course, is that it needs confident stammering to deliver the impact required to spread awareness and to increase understanding in society.

Perhaps I should start stammering again…