‘Finding My Voice’

‘Finding My Voice’

As we sat down at a table in a local café, it was hard to imagine that this confident young lady I was talking to suffers from a severe and debilitating stammer, but this indeed was the case.

Now 26,  Ballymoney’s Megan Gribben, was  enrolled in the ‘McGuire Programme’ helping people overcome their stammer, when she was 17. 

Megan was born and brought up much like any young girl, BUT for one difference, she struggled to get even the simplest of words out. 

Hindered by a profound stammer, by saying nothing she hid it from all but her closest family and friends.

Megan said,

Silence, complete silence for years. Mum knew me so well she could actually answer questions that I was asked, she done it for so long.”

She went on to say,

I was scared of people finding out that I had a stammer. I didn’t want to be seen to be different, so by staying silent, I looked like I was the same as everyone else.”

THEY SPOKE FOR ME’

As much as home life was extremely hard for Megan without a voice, it was her school life which would be the most challenging and difficult during both her early years at St Bridget’s Primary School in Ballymoney and later at Dominican College in Portstewart. 

A simple task like morning registration was a huge challenge to Megan. While her other classmates answer in full to the teacher, Megan could only simply rely ‘yes’, if anything at all.

Megan’s mum was one of the few people that could understand Megan without her having to say a word and when it came to school, Megan’s Mum would call with her new teachers and ask them not to make Megan talk in class.

This was one of the many ways she learned to cope with the battles of school life.

It was all well and fine relaying on her Mum to be her voice, but at school there was a limit to the support Megan’s Mum could provide given she wasn’t there with her. 

This is where Megan’s close friends became her support network.

She said,

I had great friends at Primary & Secondary School who pulled me through it, without them I don’t know how I would have got through it, genuinely”.

When I asked her how they helped, Megan simply said,

They spoke for me”.

An incident when the class was being covered by a substitute teacher stood out for Megan. 

When she was asked to read aloud in class, it took five minutes to get the first words out. Surrounded by her class mates, Megan felt ‘deflated’ and her confidence, what little she had, had taken a knock. 

So much so that in similar situations in years to come, Megan avoided class, often choosing to hide away in the school toilets.

She said,

Teachers aren’t taught about stammering, it’s all phycological, but the suffering goes on and its awful.”

Many of us take speaking to family and friends for granted and the thought of not speaking to them on regular basis is inconceivable to most, but for Megan this was everyday life. 

A trip to her grandparents involved sitting in the corner saying nothing and as she grew older, she avoid visiting them altogether.

Then Megan dropped a bombshell which had both of us with tears in our eyes!

The first time she was able to speak to her father properly was when she completed her first course with The McGuire Programme, simply stating, as if it wasn’t obvious from her face, that she was; “emotional now just thinking about it”.

The MCGUIRE PROGRAMME

It was during an evening at home with her Mum watching a documentary on stammering on television, that this programme called ‘The McGuire Programme’ was highlighted. 

Thinking nothing more of it, Megan carried on, but a seed had been planted in her Mum’s head who approached Megan to ask if this programme would be something she would be interested in. It didn’t take Megan long to decide. 

Could she finally have a way of dealing with this debilitating stammer? The answer was yes and a few phone calls later to the regional director, Megan had enrolled on the programme at the age of 17.

As Megan explained to me, The McGuire Programme was started by Dave McGuire in 1994, who himself suffered from the debilitating effects of a severe stammer, but who went on to learn ways to cope and overcome these.

Founding The McGuire Programme, Dave has been able to help others like Megan, breaking the chains which bind stammer suffers in their daily lives.

One of the most famous stammer suffers which the programme has helped, was Pop Idol contestant and singer Gareth Gates.

Dave still plays a very active role in the programme, speaking on a regular basis to many of the participants over the phone or via Skype, including Megan and continues to pass on his experiences and techniques. 

The programme doesn’t boast to cure but the techniques taught in the programme are an important part of the course to improvement of a stammer starting with ‘costal breathing’.

I breath from a different part of my diaphragm, from the top of it, giving a much powerful breath.” Megan explained. 

Another technique is ‘non-avoidance’. Anything that you have avoided in the past, for example introducing yourself, you are taught to go and find as many people as possible and introduce yourself. These are called ‘disclosures’.

I would sometimes do these in Ballymoney.”

More recently Megan also challenged herself even further, and agreed to take part in a radio interview about her stammer on local community radio station FUSE FM Ballymoney.

The programme continues to be solely run by volunteers and indeed those who themselves have a stammer, with no professional help from the likes of speech therapists. 

The programme currently runs three courses each year in both the North and South of Ireland for anyone from the age of 14 years up. Alongside courses for those who have gone through the programme, there are also fortnightly support groups within Northern Ireland. 

Megan, who still regularly attends these courses and meets along with fellow programme participants, describes them as a ‘big massive family’, saying;

It’s like going home when you go to see them. On the first day they make you sit in front of a video camera and do a first day video.

“We’re asked our name and about members of the family, just to give them a baseline of the severity of your stammer.

“I remember on my first that I couldn’t say anything. I tried to get my name out for about four minutes, but nothing came.”

PROGRESS

A stammer, though it can be controlled or regressed with hard work and determination, for most people will never fully go away and indeed can often reappear at particular times or occasions. 

It’s still a daily struggle for Megan who told me that stress can bring on a relapse.

If I am stressed out or emotional the stammer comes to the fore. If you’re thinking of other things and not your breathing or taking your time, it can all get on top of you.

“But that’s where you go back on the phone list and get help from the programme coaches.”

Having joined the programme at the age of seventeen, Megan now 26, admits it’s only been the last couple of years that she has progressed to where she is now, confident in her speech. 

She revealed that denial had played a huge part to getting help with her stammer. The birth of her sister’s baby finally gave her the ‘kick up the bum’ to face her stammer head on.

She set herself the goal of being able to read stories to her little niece, a goal Megan achieved and surpassed.

WHAT LAYS AHEAD

Megan has grown in confidence over the past couple of years, now doing readings in her local church and has recently joined the ‘Mid Ulster Toastmasters’.

This is a group allowing people to build confidence and to find their voice, which Megan has whole heartily embraced and is a regular speaker when the group meets.

So what does the future hold for Megan?

This was something she didn’t have to think about for too long, almost cutting me off mid question. 

With a nervous but enthusiastic laugh;

“I want to do a TED Talk”

Megan replied. This of course is in reference to the popular videos shared online of informative, educational and inspiration talks whose slogan is ‘ideas worth spreading’.

Megan, now a university graduate in Social Psychology, has come a long way from hiding in the school toilets or avoiding awkward social interaction.

She continues to progress and later this year plans on taking her exams to become a coach in the McGuire Programme, allowing her to follow in her mentor Dave McGuire’s, footsteps; passing on her experiences, ALL going back to the founding principle and ethos set up by the programme – getting ‘Beyond Stuttering’

Tipperary woman overcoming stutter affliction advises others effected to seek help SHELLY RECOMMENDS MCGUIRE PROGRAMME

Tipperary woman overcoming stutter affliction advises others effected to seek help

A thirty year old Carrick-on -Suir woman who has had to battle from a young age with a stutter impediment has appealed to people having to cope with the same problem to seek help.

 Shelly Ryan has made huge strides in overcoming her challenges by getting up the courage to enrol in the McGuire Programme last year after backing out of it for years.

“This is a programme run by people who stutter to help other people who stutter. Doing this programme has certainly given me a new outlook on life and my confidence is growing, I am no longer holding back and letting my fear stop me from achieving my goals, and for the first time in a long time I am looking forward to the future.

“From a very young age I could feel great shame and embarrassment.  

“For as long as I can remember it has always been there, this thing which I could not understand made me feel so different to everyone else, in school was my most difficult times as the teachers would ask me to read aloud which for anyone else this wouldn’t seem like a big deal.

“I remember always trying to think of ways to get out of it, like pretending I needed the bathroom or that I wasn’t well”, says Shelly., 

“My friends were great though and always wanted to help,” she said. 

Her speech effected her so much that when it came to leaving secondary school  it forced her to consider opting for a career that did not involve speaking.

 “All my friends were all talking about what they would like to do in college and what jobs we would like for the future.  I remember thinking to myself I would  love to do anything that doesn’t evolve speaking” she said.

 Shelly said she finally decided to just go for it and applied to do childcare in WCFE in Waterford as she loved children and always wanted to work with them. 

“It wasn’t until I finished college that I discovered just how hard getting a job as a person sometimes  challenged by stuttering really was. I had numerous job interviews, each one more difficult than the last as every time I got a knock back it just made the next one so much harder” she said.

Shelly was out of college eight years and had never managed to get a job. She did manage to finally get a job in the Sugradh creche and is very grateful to Denise and Trish for giving her the opportunity.

 Contact number for the McGuire Programme: 086-3429602

16-year-old Callum Wells has lived with a “covert stammer” his entire life. Growing up, he had to make constant efforts to avoid stammering and situations which might induce it.

16-year-old from Upminster, UK to become one of the youngest speech coaches on the McGuire Programme.

A teenager from Upminster, who overcame his own stammer, is now going to help teach others. 

16-year-old Callum Wells has lived with a “covert stammer” his entire life. Growing up, he had to make constant efforts to avoid stammering and situations which might induce it. 

“It was very exhausting, my mind was constantly alert for these situations and I would even avoid saying certain words,” he said.

“I remember sitting in class with the feeling of dread the whole time that the teacher might pick me to speak in front of someone.”

According to Callum, it is common for a stammerer to struggle saying their own name which can cause a lot of confusion for their friends and family. 

“I didn’t know anyone else with a stammer and I was afraid people wouldn’t understand.

“When you’re in school there’s so much pressure to be like everyone else and fit in. I didn’t think I would if I had a stammer.” 

There is no cure for the speech impediment but there are multiple ways people can learn to control it.

In March last year, Callum joined the McGuire Programme which runs a course helping people overcome their difficulties all over the country.   

And now he is helping others to overcome both the physical and mental aspects of their speech impairment.  

“I was taught a new way to breathe and speak,” he added. “It teaches you how to be assertive and speak publicly.

“It also helped with my self acceptance as many people didn’t even know I had one.” 

Soon he’ll begin his training to become a staff mentor or coach and said: “I really love seeing the development from a shy stammerer to them speaking publicly in school.”

As a child, he had a speech therapist and tried hypnotherapy but neither of them had the same impact. 

It’s not a “quick fix,” however, and Callum still works on his speech every day.  

The programme has attracted a community of “amazing people” that are always willing to help. 

One in 100 people have a stammer and he has also written to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, because he believes “the stigma of stammering needs to be tackled and people need to be educated.”

You can hear more from Callum in the news on Time 107.5 from 7am tomorrow (Monday, 21 January).

Comac King receiving his CII Certificate on the October 2018 course in Newry

Overcoming Stuttering Along The Banks Of The Newry Canal

2018 is closing its doors and what a way to sign off the final Irish McGuire Programme course of the year! The ripple effect from the ‘School for Stammerers’ documentary is still inspiring people to seek the path to articulate eloquence.

Seventeen people courageously stepped forward to take control of their stutter in Newry. The course was held in the Canal Court Hotel. The course commenced at 7pm on Wednesday 24th October and finished up around 7.30pm on Saturday 27th October. Kara McMahon – from the Newry area – instructed the course. Kara steered a tight ship and her disciplined yet warm humourous approach kept everyone smiling and in good spirits.

It was clear from Kara that support was a crucial factor to start this new journey against stuttering. The McMahon family were involved throughout the 3-days, reinforcing that “we’re all in this together” mentality and breaking down that sense of isolation.

Up to sixty graduates, coaches and course instructors came back to work on their own speech but also to teach and support the new students’ to ensure they get the best possible start to their new journey. The McGuire Programme blossoms when we all help each other grow.

The different ages and backgrounds of those in attendance gave a vibrant atmosphere to the room.

It was great to see the transformations in seventeen very determined people in just 3 days. On Wednesday night they were ruled by their stutter, fuelled by fear. By Saturday they could see and feel the freedom of speaking with control. They now have the techniques and support to combat their stutter and to live the lives they have only dreamed of.

Another year of journeys started and people empowered.

Cormac King

Reality TV star Gareth Gates overcame a stammer

The difficulties and lost opportunities of living with a stammer

I spoke to this wonderful lady, Martina, who wanted to reach out to others and offer support. Over my career in healthcare I have had the privilege to work with the bravest individuals, from young to old, who experience stuttering in daily life. She put her thoughts in writing they were so powerful.

The Impact

Martina writes: “I have had a stutter for as long as I can remember, and my earliest memory of this is when I was about 4 and I was in school and I couldn’t say my name or read out loud. Reading in class was a nightmare. I would stand up but the words just wouldn’t come so the reading would pass on to the next student. Through my life in school nothing changed. I knew that I was different and I didn’t know what to do so I started to avoid words and speaking situations.

“I remember thinking, what will I do when I have to get a job? I never got the job I wanted because of my stutter. My first idea was to do a secretarial course and work in an office but realistically that was never going to happen because I couldn’t take or make phone calls. If I was in a place where a phone rang, I would walk away and pretend I didn’t hear it. I never made a phone call in earshot of anyone because I was embarrassed by my stutter and if I had to make a call I was very good at manipulating people to do it for me.

“I got a job in retail in 1975 when I left school, and it was only meant to be a summer job but I was employed and loved it. I had to turn down more interesting roles that I was so capable for as I would have had to make presentations make and take phone calls and interact competently on a daily basis. I made an excuse and declined the offer. I was very upset. I felt useless.

“I could never order what I wanted in a restaurant I would point at the menu if I wasn’t in a position to point I would order what I could say at that moment.

I would always struggle making appointments with doctors etc. Booking hotels I couldn’t say ‘double room’, I would say ‘a room for me and my husband’. Life went on and nothing changed. On my wedding day I cried walking down the aisle, so that when it came to saying my vows my voice was shaky and I could hide my stutter. I had planned this weeks ahead.

“I called my daughter a name I could say. When she was young I could never read her a bed time story. It made me sad. I never left the house without a pen and paper so that if I got into a stressful situation with my speech I would make an excuse and say that I had just come from the dentist and would it be ok if I wrote down my name and address as it was usually that that I would be having a problem with.

“That was the way I lived my life for 53 years. I did speech therapy and I tried hypnotherapy and neither worked for me.

“In 2002 there was a programme on TV called Pop Idol and there was a guy on it called Gareth Gates and when he came on stage he had to introduce himself and he struggled saying his name. He came second on that show and became a celebrity. I researched and found that he completed the McGuire Programme. I did a bit of research on the programme and I joined in 2010.

“I haven’t gone back to school where reading was a problem, but I put myself forward to do readings in my local church. Saying my name is no problem anymore and we are encouraged to say our name every time we answer our phone. I haven’t changed my job but I have no problem making or taking phone calls. I have gone for interviews just to prove that I can get through one with no fear of speaking. I enjoy making appointments and ordering food in restaurants not just for myself but for anyone else there too.”

Dr Eddie Responds;

I have recommended many people to the McGuire Program. Details on www.stammering.ie. I have seen the transformation from old negative feelings of shame, embarrassment, sadness , stress and anxiety to competence, confidence, empowerment and finally freedom. Living with a stutter is very stressful. You can’t be the person you want to be and the McGuire Programme offers you a way out of this restricted life.

What I like most about the program is its organisation run by people who stutter to help other people who stutter.

They deal with both the physical and psychological side of stuttering. There is no cure or magic pill but with hard work courage and perseverance your life can be changed.

Martina reminded me the importance of raising hope for people who stammer.

Original Post: LEINSTERLEADER

Katie Walsh Late Late Show (Irish Independent)

Katie Walsh on The Late Late Show (RTE)

20 years after joining The McGuire Programme,  Katie speaks confidently and opens up about her struggle with a stammer as a child.

IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan

Finding her voice: How a mother of three finally overcame her lifelong stutter – aged 53

Internally she was silenced from a very young age, as those lengthy verbal pauses to pronounce words that contained the S or F sounds in particular, left her embarrassed by the responses of the other kids, “smirking and smiling” at her attempts to express herself.

It didn’t get any better as she got older: “As a teenager, I used to avoid the words that I stammered on and try and change the answer,” she tells Feelgood.

Eventually I became a covert stutterer; I tried to cover up that I had the stammer and thought nobody would see it, if I kept trying to veer conversation away. But there were an awful lot of drawbacks, as a result. I wouldn’t be able to start off a conversation with a new person for example; I was on my guard the whole time.

This continued into adulthood, through her marriage at age 22, the rearing of her three girls now aged 32, 30 and 25, and through separation and divorce. “It kept me from being myself, having my own opinions. I could never stand up for myself because I was constantly in fear of getting stuck by stammering, making a fool of myself. It was easier to keep my mouth shut, rather than speak up.”

But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.

 

IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan

 

But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.

“I think it was that stage of life… being the age I was. I just wanted to do something for me. A new start.”

Once on the course, it lived up to being an intensive one, with participants starting at 6am and not finishing until 10pm over each of the three days. She learned many tools to manage her stammer, including how she should take a deep breath to fill her lungs if she thought she was going to stumble over a word.

Afterwards, there was follow-up support by phone or Skype with others who had successfully gone through the programme — communication which still continues weekly, so they can practice their speech and talk about problems that might arise.

The fact that Margaret can even use the phone this way, is a huge leap forward.

Before I did the programme there wasn’t a hope I’d speak to anyone on the phone because I always stammered. I can answer the phone now and talk away, having a normal conversation.

She is also determined to continue her progress by putting herself in situations that challenge her to communicate, saying it is “all about practice, practice, practice.” The reward includes exploring a world from which she felt so excluded in the past.

“The past year and a half have given me a freedom I could only dream of,” she reveals. “I have challenged myself and believed in myself enough, to push myself into speaking situations that I never thought I would be able to do. I’m getting involved in a lot more things. I am the union rep now at work where I have to hold many conversations and do a lot of speaking.

“I entered the local Strictly Come Dancing competition for charity and am involved in The Kube competition, another fundraiser. I can ring for takeouts and order whatever I want on the menu. I can go up to someone now and show an interest in them and ask them questions, whereas before I would have been standing back.”

The everyday tasks that the majority of us carry out with ease, from practically toddler stage, now open up half a century later for this brave woman.

She has truly found her voice. “Yes, I have. And it’s brilliant. When I went on the course I was thinking ‘am I too old to be starting doing this?’”

But I realised you’re never too old to make changes in your life and to better yourself.

To find out more about the McGuire Programme check out http://www.stammering.ie/

Brian Dempsey instructing the February 2018 course in Dublin

66,000 Steps To Control In Dublin – Overcoming Stuttering Together

Not everyone can relate to the physical struggle seen with a stutter but everyone can connect with raw emotion. The documentary in January did many things. It projected to millions how a person who stutters feels when they cannot say their own name or make a phone call in work. It revealed to stutterers what is possible through hard work and a little self-belief. Most importantly, it uncovered the “I’m the only person who stutters” myth and broke down that sense of isolation.

Eighteen very courageous people took the big step to finally gain control of their stutter in Dublin with the first Irish McGuire Programme course of the year. The course was held in the Ashling Hotel. The course commenced on Wednesday 21st of February and finished up at 7.30pm on Saturday 24th of February. Brian Dempsey – a Dublin native – instructed the course. Brian’s first course was November 2011 with Gareth Gates at the helm. Brian steered a tight ship and kept everyone energised throughout the 3 days. It was clear from Brian that discipline was going to be key during these next few days. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments” became Mr Dempsey’s mantra during the course. The point was made that to break bad habits of a lifetime, discipline is going to be the cornerstone to success.

Around sixty graduates, coaches and course instructors (returning members) came back to help improve their own speech but also to teach and support the new students’ progress during the course.

Although there are many things that may separate the new students, they all share the one drive and determination for a better life, no longer controlled by their stutter. The younger new students were a breath of fresh air. They showed that a wise head really can sit on young shoulders.

Eighteen people took that first big step to control, and they all did fantastic. It was a pleasure to see them all grow and progress in confidence as the course continued. They now have the techniques and the support to help them improve and become the people they have always wanted to be whether it is speaking in church, making a speech or finally ordering what they want to order in a restaurant. Sometimes it’s the little things in life! Here’s to taking those steps to success (however little or big).

Cormac King

Liam Pogson of Mirfield, who has managed to take control of his stammer and is to appear on a TV programme about the affliction.

How Talking To 50 Strangers A Day Helped Conquer My Stammer

It’s good to talk – but how would you feel about speaking to 50 strangers a day?

For many of us the prospect of approaching dozens of people would fill us with dread.

So imagine how it feels if you go up to someone and literally can’t get your words out.

That’s what life was like for Liam Pogson – who has suffered with a stammer since he was a child.

But Liam’s stammer has now been transformed thanks to an intensive programme that helps sufferers conquer their speech.

A huge part of that is stopping people in the street and striking up a conversation.

For years now, as part of his daily exercises to remain in control of his stammer, Liam, 26, forces himself to talk to 50 strangers.

He will routinely ask people for directions that he doesn’t need or just try and make small talk with people he’s never met.

While some people think he’s trying to sell them something, others will stop and have a word.

Liam, a gym enthusiast from Mirfield who works at the Stadium Fitness Centre in Huddersfield, has spoken out in a bid to get other people suffering with stammers to take action.

He says the McGuire programme he used has been life changing and is urging anyone with a stammer to watch a new ITV documentary next week called School for Stammerers.

“I want people to watch it and then do the McGuire programme,” he said.

“They will learn new ways to speak and new ways to think about their stammering.

“It doesn’t have to ruin your life anymore.

“It’s part of you but it doesn’t have to define you as a person.

“If they do the course they will be in control of their speech for the first time in their life.”

Liam has previously revealed in the Examiner how his stammer had stopped him from enjoying life, particularly during his teenage years.

He developed a way of hiding it and avoided talking or socialising.

But after completing the McGuire programme he was transformed.

“I’m able to be the person I’ve always wanted to be,” he said. “I can show my true personality.

“Before I wasn’t even able to say my name. I went for a job at the stadium and I couldn’t speak.

“Thankfully I still got it even though I couldn’t say a single word.

“The McGuire programme has let me take control of my stammer – it’s a lifestyle and you have to work on it every single day.

“I speak to 50 strangers either on the phone or in the street and I will do every day for the rest of my life.”

School for Stammerers follows the emotional journey of six people trying to overcome their problem.

A lorry driver, a teacher, a pharmacist, a professional photographer, and two school boys all undergo a course that claims it can transform a stammerer’s speech in just four days.

The show airs on ITV 1 on Tuesday, January 9 at 9pm

ORIGINAL INTERVIEW FEATURED IN examiner.co.uk. LINK: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/how-talking-50-strangers-day-14106763

Stammerer Ashley Guerin. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Speaking Out – A Television Documentary Features A Norwich Man Helping People Control Their Stammers

As a child Ashley Guerin would do his best not to speak. His stock answer at school was: “I ain’t sure,” and he is sure some teachers assumed he was either ignorant or insolent.

He was neither. Instead he had a severe stammer.

On Tuesday he is part of a documentary following a group of people through an intensive course to help them gain some control over debilitating stammers.

It was a course Ashley first took, aged 17, and which has been part of his life ever since. It also changed his life, enabling the almost silent teenager to become a businessman running his own building company and comfortable talking to strangers, making phone calls and delivering speeches in front of hundreds of people.

“My speech was really bad. I used to struggle with every single word and just tried to avoid speaking altogether. I’d been through all the usual speech therapy and there wasn’t anything that really helped.”

Like most stammerers, Ashley’s speech problems began when he was around three and affected just about every aspect of his life.

“I decided to get a job in IT, even though I hated IT, because I thought I wouldn’t have to talk!”

Now 37, and running his own building construction company from his home near Norwich, he is due to get married in September.

“I thought my stammer meant I would never find a partner,” he admitted. In fact, his stammer helped him find a partner as he met his fiancé, Clairemarie, through the McGuire Programme – a therapy developed by a stammerer (or stutterer – the two words both mean the same) which trains people in a breathing technique to help them speak. Ashley and Clairemaire are both now teachers with the programme.

The initial course is an intensive four-day programme and, once the breathing technique is mastered, includes exercises such as beginning conversations with strangers, learning how to stammer on purpose to overcome anxiety about being unable to speak, and delivering a speech.

Most people then return regularly to keep on top of their stammer. “It isn’t a cure, it’s a technique to control your speech,” said Ashley. “If I stopped attending courses I would struggle. It’s like sport. You have to keep training.”

He admits being disappointed after his first course that there was not a huge, immediate and permanent change. Now he believes the technique has the potential to work for most people – but involves a huge amount of effort. “You have to face all your fears. And every time you stammer, you should try to stop and start speaking again.

“Once you have learnt the technique you have to go out on to the street with a coach and talk to 100 people. You might ask directions, ask the time, tell them you are on a speech course, it’s not what you say that’s important, it’s the fact that you are having to talk to people. The first time I only managed about 14 or 15 people, I was petrified. But once you have signed up it’s a lifetime membership and you can come back again and again.”

Remembering his own fear, as a teenager, Ashley, now an instructor and coach, is well aware of how 13-year-old Riley is feeling during the ITV documentary to be shown on Tuesday.

“When he started he was very, very quiet. I knew what he was going through and he gained so much confidence!” said Ashley.

And although Ashley still has to work hard to keep his stammer under control, he is fluent and fascinating chatting on the phone.

“I don’t try and avoid stuff any more,” he said.

Instead he has travelled to Dubai, the USA, Canada and Mexico to help coach fellow stammerers, as well as dealing with all the interactions of day-to-day life and running Guerin Construction. “A few times you get the odd impatient person, or someone who laughs, but from childhood I’ve had really good friends around me. Years ago I would rather pretend to be stupid than try to speak but now I tell people about how I work on my speech.”

Watch Ashley Guerin taking part in School for Stammering on ITV1 at 9pm on Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The one-off documentary follows the emotionally-charged journey of six people as they attempt to control their stammers and change their lives. A lorry driver, a teacher, a pharmacist, a photographer and two schoolboys take part in the intensive residential four-day course, filmed for the programme. Some go from being unable to speak to giving a speech in front of hundreds of strangers in Trafalgar Square. Ashley Guerin, from Norwich, helps coach 13-year-old Riley, who has stammered all his life. Before starting the course Riley tells viewers he feels like a jigsaw with missing pieces and if the pieces aren’t found, he’s unrepairable, which makes him really sad.

PUBLISHED: 15:06 04 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:06 04 January 2018

 

Original Interview featured in Eastern Daily Press: LINK: http://www.edp24.co.uk/going-out/school-for-stammerers-stutter-dave-mcguire-itv-television-1-5343062