Belfast teenager urges people to show understanding of those with a stammer

Luke Fleming pictured with Alison McCullough from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Picture by Hugh Russell

A BELFAST teenager has told of his experience of living with a stammer in a bid to highlight how the condition leaves many without "a voice to speak out for themselves".

Ahead of International Stammering Awareness Day on Sunday, Luke Fleming (17) has urged people to show more understanding of those with a stutter as many live in "fear or embarrassment" of their condition.

Figures show around one per cent of the population are affected by the communication disorder, with five per cent of all young children going through a period of stuttering.

A pupil at Ashfield Boys High School in east Belfast, Luke experienced elements of stammering when he was 10, but it was several years before the condition developed.

"My stammer really began at the start of fifth year in secondary school when I noticed myself repeating sounds over and over and struggling to articulate words," he said.

"Whilst in primary six and seven there were traces of stammering in my speech, such as rare dis-fluencies whilst talking quickly, but this never had a significant impact on me, as this all subsided throughout first to fourth year in secondary school.

"I decided to take speech therapy in lower sixth after my stammer got worse throughout fifth year.

"I would have avoided speaking out in class, particularly in subjects I wasn't as confident in and would have avoided looking people in the eye during communication if I was stammering."

But he said speech therapy sessions offered him the chance to get on with his life, which recently saw him become school deputy head boy.

"At the beginning of my speech therapy I worked on speech, communication and cognitive skills," he said.

"This mainly focused on the covert form of stammering which people would not see. Due to this I don't try to hide my stammer as much as previously I would have avoided or substituted words that I felt I would stutter on.

"Now because of the help I have received I maintain eye contact whilst talking and I am not as concerned as to what people think of me."

Luke added: "In many ways stammering can be an unseen condition as there can be a lot of covert issues such as fear of negative reactions that is not apparent to the listener.

"Stammering Awareness Day helps articulate the issues that many people with a stutter face, as they may be too afraid to speak out due to fear or embarrassment."

Alison McCullough from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists said: "In general, stammering begins to manifest itself in early years and a lot of times it's part of a normal process in childhood and doesn't always become a secondary stammer.

"In some children, they develop quickly and at times their brain doesn't keep up with their mouth. If a child begins to struggle, there are approaches that should not be taken, we don't want to make children anxious about speaking.

"All of these things can contribute to making things more difficult for children who are having difficulties.

"Our advice would be that before it goes to the secondary level, if parents are concerned about their child's speech, they can self-refer to speech and language therapy.

"They will see you and advise on the best way to manage it and it might resolve itself."

Research has shown singing has therapeutic benefits for those with a stammer and on Sunday speech and language therapists and service users will sing in Belfast to mark Stammering Awareness Day.

The event is at Victoria Square at 3pm.

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