International Stammering Awareness Day: Challenging discrimination and prejudice

International Stammering Awareness Day has been observed annually on 22 October since 1998. It highlights the importance of educating the public on the difficulties people with stammers can face, such as negative attitudes and discrimination, as well as discredit myths that people who stammer are anxious or less intellectual. 

Stammering is a communication disorder. The usual characteristics include, repetition, elongating certain sounds or syllables, and irregular stops or becoming stuck on words in speech, which break the flow of dialogue. However, presently the causes of stammering still mystify academics and researchers. More information about stammering can be found on the NHS website.

Raising awareness about stammering can help you understand how you can support those affected and decrease prejudice. Our Senior Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), Gillian Rudd, talked to us about her work, her interest in stammering and why it’s important to raise awareness of communication disorders.


What are the positives and challenges when teaching stammering?

In terms of positives, I feel lucky to be able to share with and learn from not only our student community but also the stammering community. I particularly enjoy working with our Experts by Experience (people who have lived experience of speech and language therapy, including people who stammer), who influence curriculum design and development and teach students directly through a wide range of mediums. The challenge is (as always!) time! It always feels like there is more we could discuss or more that we could do, but at least this makes me think very carefully about how to best use the time that we have.


How is stammering covered in the BCU SLT courses?

Students learn about stammering at all levels of study in the BSc and MSc courses at BCU, exploring what stammering is, the impact that it can have, how to carry out an assessment of someone's needs and how speech and language therapy can help. We teach through lectures and workshops but students are also encouraged to engage in additional learning opportunities, including attending Birmingham Stammering Network events.


Why is it important for your professional development and university progression to learn about stammering?

Speech and language therapists work with individuals across the lifespan who present with a wide range of communication and swallowing disorders and differences. All training courses therefore need to cover theory and practice relating to a wide range of conditions so that they can develop the competence and confidence to do this.


What drew you to learning about stammering?

I loved learning about stammering at university. I was lucky to have great lecturers who shared their knowledge and passion, which I was able to build on through a final year placement working with children who stammer in a specialist clinic. I've continued to build on my learning since then and learn from others, including people who stammer, fellow clinicians and researchers. At the same time, there is so much great work going on across the world that it's hard to keep up. My list of podcasts, research articles, blogs, conferences and events is always too long to manage in the time that I have to consume them!


Do you believe there is much awareness of stammering in the wider community?

There's definitely some and it's been great to see this develop after high profile television and film pieces such as The King's Speech and Educating Yorkshire. 


Do you think the awareness of stammering has changed over the recent years?

Yes, but there is more to do. I think it's great to see more people talking about stammering, especially celebrities like Scroobius PipEmily BluntJames Earl JonesStormzy and Ed Sheeran. I also love the new Stamma campaign from the British Stammering Association, who provide information, plus support for those who stammer and the people around them. But, it's frustrating to see that stammering continues to be positioned in popular culture as a subject for mockery, discrimination and pity. We need to change this so that it better reflects the diverse group that is people who stammer, so that the narrative isn't always focused on a search for a cure. Where are the soap stars, the romantic leads, the news presenters with stammers? Something for our media and film students to think about, maybe!


Do you have a key message to share about stammering?

Whilst stammering can be challenging, one of the things that makes it particularly difficult is the reactions of others (in a survey last year carried out by Stamma, nearly 90% of people said that they had been bullied or teased as a result of their stammer). Everyone can play a part in changing this, whether that's by skilling themselves up to be good conversation partners for people who stammer, or by challenging prejudice and discrimination where they see it. 

If you would like to learn more about Stammering, follow BCU graduate, Alumnus of the Year and inspirational secondary school teacher, Abed Ahmed, on Twitter, @stammer_teacher. Plus, read BSc (Hons) Speech and Language Therapy student, Ross McWalter’s story, on how his BCU journey was motivated by his lived stammer experience and desire to help others like himself.

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