New Northern Ireland support group helps stammering

By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent

image captionMandy Taylor has formed a support group for stammering

About 17,500 people in Northern Ireland suffer from stammering.

A newly established self-help group said it had to form due to the lack of specialist services available for adults in the NHS.

In one trust, waiting lists are getting longer due to an unfilled maternity post.

A total of 25 men and women in the Southern Health Trust area are having to wait until a replacement is found.

While there is no cure for stammering, it is thought that early intervention can provide someone with the right tools which may help them use their voice.

According to the health trusts there are about 130 adults currently waiting for help.

But Mandy Taylor, who has recently formed the Northern Ireland Support Group for Stammering and Dysfluency, said that figure does not reflect the true extent of the problem. She said adults require specific help.

"First of all there needs to be greater awareness of what stammering is about," she said.

"We need specialist help, we have specific needs.

"There are psychological problems - in fact some people can't even say their own name."

King's Speech

In 1976, the BBC sitcom Open All Hours arrived on our screens, starring Ronnie Barker as the mean shopkeeper who had a stammer. While an instant hit, there was some unease among people about what they were laughing at.

Fast forward and over 30 years later, in a more cultured environment, the plight of King George VI and his stammer had a very different impact.

The film the King's Speech confronted stammering head-on.

According to Ms Taylor not only did it raise the issue for adults, but also allowed some people to find their voice.

"When I heard about the King's Speech I thought 'oh no not another film about stammering'," she said.

"But then I snook into the pictures and I loved it. I thought if it was good enough for kings and queens it's good enough for me.

"It really inspired me to set up a self-help group."

The group meets once a fortnight at a hotel in Belfast.

They are also on Facebook. When the BBC caught up with them eight men and women of all ages were enjoying a drink and a chat.

"Help is really limited, there is little group therapy available which is what most of us wanted," she said.

"Some of the trusts do offer it but it's just not right, the wrong times or format."

Another member of the group is Jonathan Linklater.

A speech therapist, with a stammer, he said the condition triggers not only physical but emotional problems.

He said: "In school, children can be cruel to other kids with a stammer.

"In sport it's the same. There's fear even shame, but that impact can really reduce with support. "


Many adults in Northern Ireland opt for alternatives such as the Starfish and McGuire programmes which target adults.

But those courses are expensive. It is £700 to join McGuire with additional payments for refresher classes.

Geraldine Wright from Belfast said support for her son Brian once he became a teenager was more difficult.

"He had no other option but to go across the water. He joined the Starfish programme which was excellent," she said.

"It cost us money but was so worth it. NHS services here let him down, there has to be more help for young adult locally - and freely."

The condition is getting a higher profile thanks to celebrities such as Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates talking about his experience.

He is now a tutor on the McGuire Programme.

Speech therapy is currently in demand in Northern Ireland.

In the Southern Health Trust area almost 2,500 children are currently receiving help.

In Belfast, 530 children and 100 adults are on a waiting list.

More on this story