War with words: Play challenges Manchester’s stammer ‘misconception’

Skipping and tripping over words; the suspense of silence when those words won’t come out, and the apprehension that builds while they attempt to prepare for what they think is inevitable.

Around 1% of adults in the UK suffer from the condition of stammering and these are just some of the debilitating symptoms they will experience while being misunderstood at the same time.

Manchester Opera House will be showcasing the King’s Speech from Monday March 30, which tells the story of King George VI, a ruler that suffered from stammering.

Max Gattie, a member of the Manchester Stammering Support Group, is hoping that people will reassess their perception of someone struggling with words after watching the play.

He told MM: “It’s like if you were trying to pick up a cup of tea and you found that you just couldn’t do it, your hand starts to shake and it spills everywhere.

It’s a fairly horrible feeling, you go into a zone that I like to call ‘stammer time’ where everything around you seems to slow down and you’re aware you want to say something but the words will not come out even though you can say the exact same word 800 times over in another situation.

There’s a tendency for people to think people who stammer are nervous and that is not quite accurate. ”

There are many ways a listener might judge someone that stammers. It might come across as nervousness, being shy or less intelligent. But this is not only miles from the truth, these characteristics are the very tip of the iceberg.

The King’s Speech tells the tale of King George VI who suffered from stammering when he came to the throne and was forced to resort to having speech therapy so that he could address the nation confidently, which in the end he was able to do very effectively.

But beyond suffering from the condition, it is a journey through all the awkwardness and adversity that someone who stammers faces. As often, it is not the actual condition which is the worst aspect for the sufferer, but the pain and social anxiety that it comes with.

When the play arrives in two weeks time, it will hopefully enhance Manchester’s understanding and sensitivity towards stammering to eradicate the cruel assumptions.

Mr Gattie added: “There was a lot of bullying when I was a teenager, weirdly it wasn’t directed at my stammering but with a stammering problem it becomes difficult to defend yourself verbally.

“I became vulnerable to a range of other bullying attacks. You’re an easy target and it’s difficult to stand up for yourself.”

King George VI himself was subjected to bullying from his older brother Edward who was on the throne before him; as he was deemed to be unsuitable for the role when it was thrust upon him when Edward ran away with divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

Despite an awareness of the existence of stammering, society as a whole are still failing to grasp the complex, deep seated struggle that stammering hands to a person that goes way beyond a lack of fluency in speech.

Low self-esteem, a chronic fear of public speaking and socialising and that sinking sadness you feel when you realise you are ‘different’ from those chatty, confident people around you, are all hidden beneath the surface.

Jennifer Roche, a speech and language therapist from Sale, hopes the play will wipe out the stigma that still surrounds stammering.

She hopes it will make people realise – as the film did in 2010 – that words might not come easily but these people still have as much potential as anybody else to succeed in life.

She said: “I think if you think of that moment when you find it hard to be fluent, you might be nervous or in an interview situation or a presentation, I think people tend to put that onto people who stammer because that’s what they experience.

“This may not be the case though for that person and it might appear to the listener that a sufferer might not know what they want to say because there are signs there and there’s a breakdown in communication.

“But they do know what they’re going to say, they just have trouble saying it and that’s what the public need to understand.”

Image courtesy of Evan, with thanks.

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