Why Phil’s Stammer inspired him to become an SLT
As I grew up with a stammer, becoming a speech therapist was the only thing I really wanted to be.
My stammer was at its most severe during primary school, and I pretty much completely clammed up for a couple of years. The anxiety around public speaking was just too much for a young kid to handle, and it made my experience of school a lot more miserable than it should have been. Had the 11-Plus Exam not featured a speaking part, I’d most likely have gone on to grammar school. But, alas, it was the local comprehensive school for me – my stammer having settled down a bit now, but with it popping in now and again to provide my schoolmates with some choice material to tease me with.
I spent a lot of those years carefully selecting the words I chose to speak, and how I was saying them, to the extent that I developed a bit of an obsession with language. I carried this through the rest of my education and went on to study Linguistics at degree level. By the time I’d graduated, I realised I wanted to spend the rest of my life working with and studying language. Speech Therapy was the obvious way to go! So it was back to Sheffield University for another degree, more language analysis, all the while my stammer popping in and out to remind me what all those essays and exams were for.
Fast-forward a few years and I absolutely love my job! I work with people who stammer of all ages, and my work has taken me around the world, from Russia to the Middle East, to Malaysia and Singapore. I’ve met some incredible people, people who’ve opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about language, speech, and fluency.
A lot of my adult clients come to me demanding fluency, expecting that will be the answer to their problems, and I love the challenge of working with them to help them become better communicators. Sometimes more fluent speech will be a big part of that, but language and communication is so much more than just that. I don’t pretend to be a better Speech Therapist because of my stammer, but sometimes I just completely connect with a client and know how they’re feeling and what they’re going through.
The stammer still comes and goes, and I’ll sometimes go for a few weeks of it tripping me up every other sentence. It also depends on who I’m speaking with: I loved talking with my late father about history and politics, and with him it would often be a struggle to get the words out!
My favourite moment of my career happened just the other week, when one of my clients in Saudi Arabia flew over to see me at my clinic. We’d developed an excellent bond but to work with each other in person was just something else. There were tears…happy tears…big manly tears!
I got involved with ASC through the various trainings I’ve attended at the Michael Palin Centre. They’re very active on Facebook/Twitter etc and so always popping up on my feed. When I developed a bit of a “dad-bod” recently due to too little exercise and too much unhealthy food, and heard of another SLT doing a 10k run in aid of ASC, I saw an opportunity to kill 2 birds with 1 stone! I got match-fit again and completed my run in a respectable time, proudly wearing the jersey that the lovely Alanna at ASC sent me.
I love the work that ASC do – they’re always thinking of new, innovative and exciting ways to get people talking about stammering, and they put openness about stammering at the forefront of everything that they do.