Living with a stammer

Adam Black writes about how his life was changed.

Stuttering is a hidden disability and one which affects 1% of the world’s population. For many people who stutter, the world can be an intimidating place to live and one where a stutterer can feel isolated. Renowned speech pathologist, Joseph Sheehan, talks about stuttering as an iceberg. The people only see 10% of your stuttering (blocking, freezing or sound repetitions) and the other 90% is underneath the surface (shame, embarrassment, lacking confidence, sadness). The 90%, the part below the surface is often the hardest part for people who stammer.

As a stutterer myself, I used to feel feelings of anxiety and embarrassment every time I spoke. I felt alone and that no one could understand my situation. I left school and chose a course at college that involved little to no speaking even though all I wanted to do was be a teacher. This feeling of wanting to be something and being forced to be something different was very difficult to take. I was frustrated at myself and frustrated at the world around me.

Then eleven years ago, I found a stuttering therapy course called The McGuire Programme. This is a unique therapy option as it is run for people who stutter by people who stutter. The course itself follows a rigorous four day format and around 15 hours of intense speech work is squeezed in every day. This intensity means that you give yourself every chance of making the changes needed to tackle your stammering.

After my first course everything changed for me. I no longer felt alone. I had a support community of other people who knew what I was feeling including an extensive after support network where a coach was only ever a phone call away should I have needed any advice or help.

Another important aspect of the McGuire technique is using an assertive tone when speaking-no holding back on sounds. This included speaking dysfluently in a controlled way. Being dysfluent on my own terms gave me the confidence that it is fine to speak differently from other people and it allowed me to stop hiding and to accept myself as a person who stutters.

This shift in mind set was the most difficult change but was the most importance – I was finally accepting who I really am. By accepting myself as a person with a stutter, I was dealing with those feelings below the surface and melting away the 90%.

Around eight years ago I decided to retrain as a teacher and now work in a busy primary school in Glasgow. I decided to retrain and follow my dream as I felt I was at a stage where my speech, my stuttering, no longer has an impact on how I live my life and in turn does not have an impact on giving children a solid education.

I am very open and honest about my disability with colleagues, parents and children. I teach children that it is perfectly acceptable to be different and it gives hope to people who themselves struggle with barriers to achieving their full potential. Parents of children in schools where I have worked appreciate that their child is seeing a person being honest about who they are, warts and all.

Since joining The McGuire Programme and accepting this hidden disability I have achieved things I never thought I could achieve. I have presented at academic conferences- relaying data from my master’s level qualification, I have given a best man speech and I’ve given a speech at my own wedding. It’s also the little things like ordering a take away or getting my train ticket. The McGuire Programme changed my life.

Over the past eleven years I have dedicated much of my spare time to promote awareness of stammering and to reduce the stigma around speaking to people who stutter. This has included me sharing my story in newspapers, radio and on live TV on several occasions. I also take opportunities to present on stuttering at teacher conferences. I do this in an attempt to ‘normalise’ stuttering to teachers who have told me from their experience, they are often uncomfortable dealing with children who stammer in their class.

This July in Birmingham, I’m running a McGuire course to help people deal with their stuttering. The course is in the Holiday Inn and runs from 25th July to 29th July. Anyone interested in finding more information about the McGuire Programme should check out

My final message would be to embrace your quirks, they make you who you are. When I finally did that, I started to like myself and my life a whole lot more.