Getting through university with a stammer

4 Mins read

Most people thrive from having their voices heard. Some stand front and centre with all eyes on them, their hearts steady. Others stand unfazed and calm as they present their ideas and speak their minds — they speak fluently, open and clear.

However, not everyone has this experience when standing up to talk in front of people. Some people hide. They hide from the idea of standing up, front and centre, even if this is to simply introduce themselves. Their heart races, they stand fazed and anxious. Simple tasks, such as ordering food or a drink become daunting.  Answering the phone or making a call can become nerve-wracking.

All these tasks seem like an easy everyday routine for most people, but this is the opposite of what stammerers feel like.

A stammer/stutter is when there is a blocking of speech — this can cause repetition of words and letters. Some can stutter through childhood, but can also overcome it.  Nonetheless, there are people who can not overcome it and will continue to live with the speech disorder into adulthood. Approximately 500,000 adults have a stammer in the UK, this is about 1% of the adult population. More men are said to stammer than women, with a ratio of about three-and-a-half to four stammering men for every woman who stammers.

Rory Sheridan is an honours graduate of BA Photography. He is well acquainted with struggles of having a stammer when he was at  university. Nonetheless, he has used his stammer for good, using it to help him towards his work. His final major project was called: The Open Mouth That Offers Up Nothing.

Rory Sheridan, part-time at the Design Museum

Rory Sheridan works part-time at the Design Museum as a Visitor Experience Assistant [Georiga Nelson]

“Stammering did hold me back at UAL. I would struggle to contribute in group discussions and tutorials,” Rory explains. “My friendship group and connections were somewhat limited, I perhaps didn’t make the most of the support and advice of tutors and technicians to really ensure that I explored all methods of making and processes.”

Even though Rory describes his stammer as something which limited his friendship groups, he was lucky to meet someone in his course who also had a stammer.

“It’s really exciting when you find someone who is going through the same thing as you are. Even though a stammer can be seen as something which can hold you back and make your life difficult, meeting people who suffer from the same things you do can help you see the positives and help you understand how other people deal with it.”

When asked about how his stammer affected his experience at university, Rory told Artefact how his stammer did have both positive and negative effects on his university experience: “Positively, about a year and a half into my course, I found that my stammer and the individuality it brought me was actually a really positive influence on my university experience.”

This has lead him to make his artwork about his own and others stammering experiences, such as his final major project.

Rory has tried to get help multiple times. He firstly got therapy at the amazing Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children in Islington. He went on an intensive course for two weeks: “It was an inspiring experience, allowing me to accept myself for who I am and what my stammer is, as well as a technique for managing it better. This was an intense, emotional two weeks of my life, changing my stammering journey for the better.”

[pullquote align=”right”] “If you ever feel lonely, reach out to someone professional.”[/pullquote]Recently, Rory joined another programme at the City Literary Institute in London, “I have attended an intensive course again but as a young adult. This allowed me to identify what I do in a moment of stammering, become less sensitive to this then put steps in place to modify what I do.”

Like many, his stammer has the most effect on him when he is tasked to meet new people and is around people that he does not know very well.”Just try to be yourself. Stammering exhibits so many positive traits, granted, it is sometimes tricky to see these for yourself. But, acknowledge these, and try to maintain a positive mental attitude. It will do you wonders,” he said.

I never realised that I had a stammer until I was made to leave school early once a week to attend a speech therapy session, I was seven years old at the time. The condition never truly bothered me until I was in secondary school. This is where the staring and the laughing every-time I tried to say “Good Morning” when my name was called began.

People holding up speech bubbles

“I have all these ideas, but I can’t say them.” [Pixabay:RawPixel]

During my first year of secondary school, I kept my head down. I avoided questions and speaking in general. One thing I dreaded almost as much as presentations, were supply teachers. The teachers that covered a lesson, when the teacher was ill or away. This is because they didn’t know about my stammer. They didn’t know that I was the last person in the classroom who needed to read out loud.

Similar to Rory’s experience, I felt my stammer has also held me back and affected my experience at university. In secondary school, I struggled with how people reacted to my stammer but it wasn’t until I started university that my stammer really got in the way.

There are some days where I wished I’d never chose to study journalism. Journalism is all about communication, this can be with the readers, people you’re interviewing or those you work within your career. I knew that the course featured a large amount of communication, written and verbal, however, it was the confidence within the classroom which brought out my stammer the most.

Watching people confidently talk about their ideas and watch how they would easily interview people during exercises made me more anxious about myself. I wanted to be able to walk up to someone and ask them questions without the fear of not getting through the questions before my stammer made an appearance.

As a 22-year-old, I am looking to overcome my stammer. Like Rory, I am researching into the idea of attending speech therapy again or joining a support group. I’d like to overcome my stammer and not let it define me anymore.




You can follow Rory Sheridan on Twitter @RSSheridan

Featured image by ShuaiGuo via Pixabay

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