Ipswich man on why a speech impediment is no impediment to success
PUBLISHED: 11:31 10 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:31 10 February 2019
If you were to speak to Justin Butcher today, you wouldn’t be able to tell he had ever had any difficulties with his speech.
But to get to where he is today, the 42-year-old from Ipswich had to work extremely hard to say words that for many of us, quite literally, rolled off the tongue from a young age.
Justin’s journey from what he describes as the “hidden disability” of speech and language difficulties to a good career with a happy family is a remarkable story that shows an impediment with speech is no impediment to intelligence or success.
Yet sadly it is a journey too few are able to make because, as this newspaper recently revealed, too few are given the vital support they need early in their lives to make the best of their talents.
Justin first saw a health visitor when, at 18 months old, his mother noticed that he was making different sounds for words. For example, he would say “ooee” instead of “cat”.
Speech and language problems can often be the result of hearing problems.
When tests revealed Justin’s hearing was fine, he had 30mins of speech therapy every six weeks at playgroup, when he was aged two - but it was not enough.
His difficulties made him a “very frustrated and unhappy child”, with Justin saying: “I remember when I spoke, it sounded okay to me.
“I got frustrated and had tantrums as people couldn’t understand me.”
A difficulty with speech, language and being understood had several knock-on effects.
Justin said he would often struggle to remember things, take longer to think of answers to questions and had difficulties socialising with other children.
“I lacked the communication skills to make friends,” he said.
“People could not understand me.”
Yet he said: “I remember some people thinking I was stupid but I knew I wasn’t.”
At the age of four Justin was fortunate to get a place at the Suffolk Speech and Language Unit at Rushmere Hall School.
It was not always easy - he needed daily, intensive tuition and going to a different school from those in his neighbourhood meant he did not have many friends close to home.
But after just a year, his speech was making progress - and at the age of seven, people could understand most of what Justin was saying.
He was transferred to Sidegate Primary School, where he was gradually integrated into mainstream classes.
One of his main battles then was building up confidence.
“I lacked confidence and didn’t trust people,” he said.
“I feared going out and going to new places. When I went somewhere new, it was like going to school on the first day.
“I couldn’t go on family holidays when I was young as I didn’t like new places.
“It is important not to forget how difficult it was for my family.
“It was hard for my sister as I got more attention and we could not go places, as I didn’t like going out.
“I needed a familiar person with me all the time. This meant that my mum and dad couldn’t go out as much and not many babysitters would look after me, as they did not understand my disability.”
However by the time he left Sidegate Primary his speech was good and he went onto Holywells High School, where his speech therapy was phased out.
He went on to complete NVQs in business administration after leaving school and while he says he is still “a bit wary of people” and can sometimes in muddle his words when nervous, he has built a successful career.
Perhaps even more importantly, he has a happy family of a wife and three children.
He has even refereed Eastern Counties Football League matches and has extensively fundraised for Afasic, a charity for people with speech and language difficulties which supported his family throughout his disability.
He has even spoken at Afasic events and in the charity’s videos, something that would have perhaps been unthinkable in his youth.
“I was very lucky that my speech disorder was diagnosed very early, so I got speech therapy at a young age,” he said.
“I think this is key - getting diagnosed as early as possible and receiving help as early as possible.
“I was very lucky. If I hadn’t managed to get that support, I may not be where I am today.
“If you’ve got a physical disability, everyone can see it but speech and language difficulties tend to get left behind. It’s a hidden disability.”
Justin also said having a speech and language difficulty “definitely makes you look at things in a different way”.
He added: “It’s made me more hard-working and has given me the confidence to achieve things in life and set myself targets.
“It does drive you. It makes you appreciate life a lot more.”
Concerns over support for people with speech and language difficulties in Suffolk
Fears have been raised that hundreds of Suffolk children are being left behind with speech and language difficulties, potentially leaving them with life-long problems.
Suffolk NHS leaders say there is a lack of support services for more than 1,000 young people with communication difficulties.
They fear that could be causing a generation of people greater problems with schooling, behaviour, forming relationships and building a career later in life.
As a result they are pumping £1million of money from the West Suffolk, and Ipswich and East Suffolk, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to pay for more speech and language therapists and to train teachers to spot the early signs of delayed language development.
“It is massively important for children,” said Richard Watson, deputy chief officer for the CCGs.
“If we don’t intervene early, there is an impact on their educational outcomes, their behaviour and in terms of their future mental health. It has significant consequences for them in the future.
“We feel this is such an important area that we need to find the money.”
“Two important things have happened in my life that have changed its course,” says Justin Butcher.
“The first is I got speech therapy at a young age. The second is my mum and dad learned about Afasic.”
The charity provides vital information and training for parents of children with speech and language difficulties so they know how best to help their son or daughter.
One of its important schemes is an identity card, which Justin carried round with him in case he ever found himself unable to speak and needed to tell people about his communication difficulties.
Afasic also raises money so children with speech difficulties can go on activity weeks, giving parents valuable rest time.
Justin has worked extensively with Afasic to raise awareness about speech and language difficulties, speaking at its head office and appearing in videos produced by the charity.
He is also running the London Marathon for the charity this April.
“This is a charity very close to my heart and I can’t thank them enough for the support they have given me and my family,” he said.
For more information about the charity, visit its website or call its helpline on 0300 666 9410.
You can also donate the Justin’s online fundraising page for the London Marathon.