In an article for International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD), Erin Stoner, winner of the 'Jack Petchey Speak Out! Challenge 2018', tells us why the day is important to her.
The 22nd of October sees International Stammering Awareness Day promote recognition for the speech impediment, with a striking 1 in 100 people dealing with a stammer, or stutter, at some point in their lives. I am proudly one of those 1 in 100s, and have had a stammer since I was able to talk. It is an important day for those who have something important to say, though it might take us a little while longer than others.
A stammer, by dictionary definition, is ‘to speak with sudden involuntary pauses and a tendency to repeat the initial letters of words’. This definition I believe covers the literal side of things, or the theoretical aspect to a stammer. However, stammering is more than just a stop in a sentence, more than just the repetition of a singular letter, more than just struggling to read out loud. It’s not being able to say ‘hello’. It’s classmates giggling as you struggle to say ‘here’ in the register. It's learning to interchange words you will stammer on to those you won’t in an instant. Stammering is feeling your cheeks heat up in shame because you can’t finish your sentence and your friend finishes it for you.
Starting to stammer
I started stammering as soon as I could speak but began speech therapy aged 6 after I was cast in my school play. Having a stammer was something that I simply could not accept as a loud-mouthed 6-year-old. I couldn’t understand why the words I had in my head could not make their way to my lips as I thought they should do. I could not understand why my chest felt too tight and my shoulders felt so tense or why my voice spluttered and chipped and dragged when I answered a question in English class. I had five years of speech therapy and want to commend this day, ISAD, as one that raises awareness for something that otherwise wouldn’t get recognition.
If you have a stammer, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get up on a stage and do things.
In July, I won the ‘Jack Petchey, Speak Out! Challenge 2018’ with my performance entitled ‘A speech for speech’, which explained how growing up I was affected by a stammer. This was the competition that was to change me forever. I was able to perform, I was able to get up on a stage and do what used to scare me most: speak. And I loved every terrifying second. Because for that time, I could perform without a care and without worry; I could simply get up and tell people my story. Our story. In front of the kindest, most supportive competitors and members of my family that had watched me progress from stammering out a ‘Good morning’ to performing in front of 1,000 people, I could voice something that I believe vitally needs to be voiced. The little things that run through the mind of everyone who stammers.
And in that moment, upon that stage, I finally accepted that perhaps stammering isn’t so terrible. I realised that I want people to remember that if you have a stammer, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get up on a stage and do things. It just means that you have to have guts. I say talk as much as possible. A lot of people who stammer don’t like talking, but if there is one thing I want to say to someone with a stammer, it would be to talk. Talk to your animals, talk to teachers, talk to absolutely everyone who is near you. A lot of it is about practising and overcoming the fact that if you do stammer it’s not the end of the world - you aren’t less of a person.
And finally, at 16-years-old I have accepted that my stammer is a part of me. Just as I have blue eyes, I have a stammer. Just as I have brown hair, I have a stammer. Just as I have ten fingers and ten toes, I have a stammer. And that’s okay.
Happy International Stammering Awareness day!
Read more about Erin's success at the Jack Petchey Speak Out! Challenge here: https://www.stammering.org/speaking-out/article/speak-out-challenge-winner