By Sam Sholli
It is estimated that one in every 100 adults has a stammer.
Central to tackling the issue in the UK is the McGuire Programme.
The McGuire Programme is a speech therapy programme run by and for stammerers. The foundation of the programme, when joining, is a four-day intensive course which provides the physical and psychological tools necessary to overcome a stutter.
With today being International Stammering Awareness Day, I interviewed Faris Shoubber, a stutterer who is a McGuire Programme participant. Below is the interview in full.
How long have you had a stutter for?
Like most stutterers, I have had a stutter for as long as I can remember – so most likely since I learned to speak, as a toddler.
It has been documented that although originally a physical impediment, issues surrounding stuttering are usually far more significant psychologically. Has that been your experience?
Definitely. While the severity of my stammer has often fluctuated, it has for most of my life affected me far more psychologically. As what is described as a ‘covert’ stutterer, I used to do my best to hide my speech disorder – by substituting in easier words to say, using lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ and often avoiding speaking situations altogether. As a consequence, to my listener it might have appeared I was just a quiet, hesitant and nervous person. Though under some circumstances that would be ‘successful’ in hiding my stammer, in high-pressure situations I would often deal with high fear levels, in addition to shame and frustration that I could not say what I wanted to say.
Has your confidence suffered because of your stutter?
Until I joined the McGuire Programme around a year ago, my confidence definitely suffered because of my stutter. Often in situations with my friends or family I would go for long periods sounding relatively fluent, but in others where I was approaching a feared word or speaking to a larger group my confidence was certainly affected. As I alluded to, in those kinds of situations fear levels would be very high and I would be particularly conscious of my speech; somewhat ironically, generally the more I would concentrate on speaking fluently, the more likely my speech would be to collapse. As a result, my low confidence would often put me off doing things like public speaking, or essentially anything that would rely on my speech.
What advice would you give to stutterers who are going through something similar?
The best advice I would give to anyone suffering from a stutter is to confront the issue. For most of my life I was extremely sensitive about my speech and that really held me back from working on my speech and achieving a sense of self-acceptance. As a teenager I was hopeful that my stammer would be something that I would naturally ‘grow out of’, and so I continued to hide my stutter and be inhibited by it. Although initially it took a family member to actually address the issue with me, and inspire me to do something about it, being very open about my stammer has been crucial in enabling me to improve my speech. That’s why I think events like International Stammering Awareness Day can be so significant; they raise awareness of the issue, and encourage both stutterers and fluent speakers to discuss the issue.
The other piece of advice I would give is not to worry too much about how other people perceive you; most people are far more patient and understanding than a stutterer perceives them to be. By realising this, I have been able to resist time pressure a lot more when speaking, and have also discovered stuttering is an issue ‘fluent’ people are often interested in hearing about.
Would it be fair to say that the McGuire Programme has helped you at a personal level?
Definitely – I think the McGuire Programme has been the key to getting control of my speech, and to becoming a more confident person altogether. My first course was in October 2015, and within the last year I have seen tremendous improvement in my speech. More importantly, I am far more comfortable with my stammer and actually enjoy speaking about it and raising awareness of stuttering in general.
Moreover, the McGuire Programme provides an incredible support network around the world, and offers consequent courses, improvement days and support groups through the year. The importance of these can’t be understated, as working on your speech is not an overnight process and the resources offered are very useful to keep challenging yourself and improving your speech. I would strongly encourage anyone with a stammer, or who knows someone with one, to look into speech therapies such as the McGuire Programme, as it has certainly changed my life.