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Student experience

| 01.09.2010

Starting university can be a big life change. We asked people on the BSA Facebook page for any tips and experiences to pass on to new students who stammer.

Students sitting on lawnDuring the application process I contacted the disabilities office at the uni and went along to have a chat with them. They weren't able to offer any substantive assistance but it was reassuring to know that they were there to speak to if I had any serious problems.
As it turned out, I had very few major problems as most people, both lecturers and other students, were very understanding and accommodating. My stammer was seen merely as a feature of me, rather than as a barrier which prevented communication. The prevailing attitude at uni seems to be one of acceptance of differences, so any prejudices which are often met in non-student life are just not found at uni (on the whole).
The one thing I've learnt from my uni experience is to be much more open about my stammer; I now more often than not tell people that I stammer (before a presentation etc) which both reduces my anxiety and theirs. Uni has really been a great experience for me and it can be for anyone who stammers.

Agree with that 100% Ben! The first day in uni was a nightmare for me, I will never forget that first day in halls having to introduce myself! However after that first hurdle I had the best 3 years of my life at uni!

As a University lecturer I would have expected the student support services to be able to offer some more substantive assistance than Ben seems to have got. Where assessments are by presentation, alternatives can be offered, either presenting to the tutor or extra time, or some awareness among tutors about stammering, so they don't penalise for dysfluency. Certainly these days, with the DDA/Equality Act there can be a requirement to make such adjustments.
It may have been the case that Ben's university did not have much awareness of stammering and how it might impact on his studies and assessments. Student support services are also important for tutors, as tutors cannot be expected to have awareness of every disability and what are suitable adjustments. As a lecturer who stammers, I have also had 1 or 2 students who stammer, but I do not know if they have declared this to student services. As a tutor I have often received information from the department's disability officer about the adjustments required by students I teach, however I have never been made aware that a student required any adjustments because of a stammer.

Get yourself along to a Freshers Fair. This will let you know which groups or societies you may be interested in joining and is a great way to make friends not on your course.

Live your dreams and life will be great. The start of university is a chance to discover who you really are and to make a life independent of other people. Be strong and self confident and your speech will follow suit.

As a university lecturer, I say remember that those about you will not have a clue about what it means to have a stammer. Even things that you take to be glaringly obvious rarely are to a fluent. A word about your speech with your tutor will not go amiss and may go a long way! Remember also that you are unlikely to know what it is like to be deaf, blind, in a wheelchair or have any other 'disability'. Take time therefore to understand the needs of others.

I started Uni feeling quite overwhelmed and self conscious of my stammer, and this lasted most of my 1st semester. But 2nd semester came and I felt more settled.
My tip for anyone who starts at Uni is it's ok to feel this way, if you do, and to get yourself along to a Freshers Fair. This will let you know which groups or societies you may be interested in joining and is a great way to meet more people and make friends not on your course. I ended up joining the Uni Drama Soc and had a great 3 years in it, acting on stage and socialising with other members.
If you are really battling your stammer go see your personal tutor if you have one or student services or anyone relevant in the Student Union. They may not be able to offer an ideal solution but sometimes talking how you feel helps.
Good luck to anyone with a stammer starting Uni this year, I hope you do better than expected and have a great Uni experience!

@Claire: You're absolutely right: when I popped in to see the disabilities people they had very little experience with people who stammer; the guy who I spoke to even said I was the first stammerer they had seen. That's not to say they weren't helpful, quite the opposite. This may be because none of my assessed work involved my speech, so it was enough to simply have someone to talk to if needed. I could always speak to my tutor/lecturers as well, who were all very understanding. So I agree that it's as much about educating academic staff about stammering, as it is about academic institutions offering substantive support.

My advice is to put yourself out there. Most people don't think stammering is a big deal, even though we think it is. I had a great experience in college. Great professors and friends.

"My advice is to put yourself out there. Most people don't think stammering is a big deal, even though we think it is."
I'm in my second year at university; I found my first week very hard because I was very worried about introducing myself. The best thing I could do to ease myself in was to take the tutors aside and explain to them my situation, and let them know I was very uncomfortable speaking out loud. Luckily I have wonderful, understanding tutors and they did their best to keep me comfortable.
My university has an amazing support system for students like me and any oral presentations were substituted for written work at my request. This aided my self-confidence as not being able to verbally contribute always made me feel as if people assumed I didn't know anything on the topic being discussed, which wasn't the case.
My only advice would be to speak with tutors and talk about how they can help you settle in, and not to worry too much about introductions - usually the way you learn names is listening to the register and being grouped together for tasks; if you learn names this way, the people around you are most likely learning yours too!

From the Speaking Out Autumn 2010, p6-7