Anguish of stammering

STAMMERING – a problem which effects some 800,000 people in the UK, was the focus of an international conference in Ipswich last tonight .Ahead of next week's International Stammering Awareness Day, NICK RICHARDS looks at the issues related to this surprisingly common speech problem.

By Nick Richards

STAMMERING – a problem which effects some 800,000 people in the UK, was the focus of an international conference in Ipswich last tonight .

Ahead of next week's International Stammering Awareness Day, NICK RICHARDS looks at the issues related to this surprisingly common speech problem.

WHEN teen pop sensation Gareth Gates started to appear on television screens this time last year it was probably the best thing that could have happened to stammering.

This young white kid with spiky hair had an angelic voice when he sung, yet an awful stammer when he spoke.

Millions watched as, week after week, he churned out heart-achingly good cover versions of songs such as Mack The Knife, Last Christmas, Unchained Melody and Yesterday on ITV's Pop Idol.

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But then those millions empathised as he struggled to carry out a post-song interview with his stammer.

However media-friendly personalities such as Gareth Gates are the acceptable face of the stammering 'problem'. For his fans it was, perhaps, a minor quirk or a sign of nerves, but for other people the issue is far more serious.

In 1994, Helen Barker's year old son took his own life because he had a stammer.

Dominic Barker had two university degrees, but had struggled to find employment due to his stammer.

At the age of 26, he took his own life.

Dominic's mother, Helen, who lives in Holbrook, established The Dominic Barker Trust in 1998 to research the problem into stammering.

It supports two researchers in the Dominic Barker Research Centre at Suffolk College.

Helen said it was important to highlight the problem of stammering and offer those who had a stutter a point of help.

She said: "After Dominic died we wanted to do something positive to help raise awareness of the problem so we set up Dom's Fund, a charity in his memory to help others.

"Most of us take for granted the ability to speak on the phone, to ask for what we need when shopping, and to answer questions in a job interview.

"But stammerers frequently struggle to make themselves understood by those who do not recognise the difficulties and frustration a stammerer experiences."

Last night's conference at Suffolk College featured a keynote presentation by Erik Lamens the Belgian film producer, himself a stutterer.

He spoke of the need to cultivate an understanding of stammering – the same theme which will be the aim of this year's International Stammering Awareness Day on October 22.

This is the fifth year the world has united to tell others about the complex issues of stammering, however this is the first year that the British Stammering Association has embarked upon a day of campaigning.

Their campaign centres on informing work colleagues and schools a little more about the problems facing adults and children who stammer.

Steve Burnett, Marketing and Development Manager, said: "Because of the vast amount of media attention stammering has had in the past few months with Gareth Gates, we have seen a marked increase in the people calling our helpline and counselling service.

"We have been able to help young children by assisting with therapy choices as well as providing information, reassurance and a listening ear to parents of stammering children.

"Our service is open to all ages and we aim to assist all who stammer from young children to older adults.

"This marked increase in usage of our service has prompted us to introduce the Bring a Pound to Work and School campaign on International Stammering Awareness Day 2002."

Work places and schools throughout the UK will be collecting pounds for the BSA and through this a greater awareness of issues relating to stammering will be brought to the public's attention as well as raising much needed funds for the BSA's work.

Norbert Lieckfeldt, Chief Executive of the British Stammering Association, who himself stammers said: "The British Stammering Association is the only national charity helping the 800,000 adults and children in the UK who stammer.

"Stammering can severely affect the social, educational and professional development and our helpline and campaigns are geared towards giving out accurate and unbiased information on how to access help."

With high-profile campaigns and new awareness into stammering, hopefully a repeat of the tragic death of Dominic Barker can be avoided.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

The Dominic Barker Trust is based in Holbrook. Telephone 01473 328530 for more information or check out the Dominic Barker website at: www.suffolk.ac.uk/dbt-healthresearch/index.html

The British Stammering Association has a website (www.stammering.org) plus a helpline, 0845 603 2001, which offers information and a counselling service.

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