It’s the last afternoon of the Michael Palin Centre ‘intensive’ (that’s a two week intensive group therapy course for 10 to 14 year old children who stammer and their parents, supported by Action for Stammering Children). And it has been intense……..but in a good way.
Intensely moving to see young people, whose only way of coping with their stammer was to hide it away, now talking openly about it – to their families, their friends, even on Twitter and Instagram.
Intensely encouraging to hear parents tell how their children will no longer let them order their food for them in a restaurant, or answer questions on their behalf.
Intensely powerful to see children and parents alike open their eyes to new possibilities for the future – broader horizons where stammering does not restrict their choices of subjects to be studied, pastimes to be pursued, jobs to be trained for. Not because they are no longer stammering, but because they know they can do all those things, whether or not they stammer.
And intensely humbling to hear from our visitors – Ed Balls, Ollie Dimsdale and Alistair Barr, all of whom stammer and have achieved huge success in their chosen field, all of which involves lots of talking and all of whom are shining lights for the rest of us. When Ollie Dimsdale was asked how he has succeeded as an actor even though he stammers, he said we only had to look at heroes of the Invictus Games to see greater examples of overcoming adversity, and if those guys could do it – why not the rest of us?
This group of children are heroes, leaving us today with their fabulously supportive parents, to take back into their everyday lives their new skills, their new determination and confidence and to start living the lives they were meant to.
Do you know anyone (or anyone else) who stammers? Probably yes, if you are reading this, but Joe Public might well say no, they don’t, it isn’t that common, is it? But chances are you do know a number of people who stammer, but they manage to keep it hidden. Some people lead successful lives while hiding their stammer. They keep a low profile at school but do well in exams, get a job that may not involve too much talking, become known as good listeners in social situations. But for others, the cost of hiding your stammer is significant. You have a gift for language but cannot show this off as you say the minimum. You know the answers in class but keep your hand down. You don’t apply for that promotion because you know it involves an interview. You tie yourself (and your listener) up in knots trying to say something without using words that beginning with a letter you always get stuck on. We have a group of boys here on an intensive therapy course who are considering their options – to continue to hide their stammer or to risk being more open about it. And it feels very risky. But these are courageous young people who know that their horizons might just be wider…………. Ed Balls MP came to visit them this morning and told them of his experiences of being more open, of taking the stammer out of the box. Ed has risked doing this on national television, in the House of Commons – tough audiences. He really inspired the children, one of whom later said “I’ve always put it in a box, but will definitely take it out more”. Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day when we want the world to know and understand about stammering. We are supporting young people to be brave, be themselves and realise their potential with or without their stammer. You are the people who will see that happen. And the world will be a better place because of it.
October 9th has been an extraordinary day for the Michael Palin Centre.
A number of London radio stations, such as Heart, LBC, Capital and Smooth have today launched a new charity called ‘Make Some Noise’. One of the benefitting charities is Action for Stammering Children, which supports the Michael Palin Centre. Over the past few weeks we have played host to a number of radio presenters who wanted to see our work and meet the young people, and we have been to the radio studios to make some recordings.
This morning Michael Palin and Ed Balls talked on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show about our work with children who stammer and a number of the recordings of the young people at the Centre were aired. Another presenter, Matt Wilkinson spoke of his own struggles with stammering as a child and featured more clips of children and a therapist talking. Capital Radio’s Pandora also featured our work. This afternoon two of the children and a therapist are going to the LBC studio to be interviewed by Clive Bull for his show this evening.
A wonderful opportunity to raise the profile of Action for Stammering Children and the Michael Palin Centre. And for our young people – five minutes of fame!
An emotional evening’s viewing. Nobody could have felt unmoved by the raw honesty of those adults who appeared in the documentary, by their stories of closing down their lives, by their anguish and self flagellation about what they have or have not done, and by their fear of what they were embarking on and whether it would help.
Feeling helpless and hopeless is commonly reported by our young people, their parents and the adults when they arrive at the Centre. They talk of ‘dark tunnels’ and ‘last chance saloons’. Some have never accessed help, others have received lots of therapy which doesn’t seem to help. And we do not offer the miracle cure, the Holy Grail.
Nor does the McGuire Program shown last night. It offers a technique, which, as Mushy says, can give control over the stammer, rather than overcome it. Speech control techniques are ten-a-penny and it doesn’t take too long to help a person with even the most severe stammer to gain control in a safe environment. It is giving them something which will help them in their real life which is the challenge. Knowing how to control your speech, but then being unable to use it when you need to just makes a person feel a failure and does the opposite of what it is supposed to. The McGuire programme helped Mushy, Vicky, Debbie and the others to test this out during the course within and outside their group, using a wonderful support system – mentors who have ‘walked in their moccasins’.
The programme also encourages the participants to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, to have a go and learn that they can survive it not going exactly to plan. These experiences make an enormous difference to confidence levels and give the message that the stammer does not have to get in the way.
So a really positive experience for those in the programme and those watching the programme. We are impressed by the dedication of those mentors who will continue to provide support as the participants strive to keep this going and build on it. The courage of Mushy and Vicky and Debbie inspires us all. And we will endeavour to provide the same life-changing experience to the children, young people, adults and their families who seek support at the Michael Palin Centre.
Friday was an extraordinary day at the Michael Palin Centre.
It was the last day of our two-week group intensive therapy course for young people who stammer aged 15 to 18, where the fourteen teenagers had bonded together as they set themselves great challenges in building confidence and resilience, learning speech strategies, honing their social interaction skills and not letting their stammer get in the way. They made presentations to groups of people, went out into Exmouth Market to speak to members of the public, devised plans for maintaining the progress they had achieved, as well as managing the inevitable relapses, and pledged eternal friendship beyond the course.
As the young people left the building at 3.30, it was transformed into a party venue ready for a 4.30 start. Glasses were polished, rooms were tidied, therapists gave themselves makeovers, food was prepared, badges were issued. And an hour later the building was filled with friends and supporters of the Centre and the Charity.
Michael Palin cut the ribbon to officially open the Lena Rustin Wing, our wonderful new training room which converts into two therapy rooms. We had remembered and toasted Lena Rustin, the innovative, visionary and dynamic therapist who had established an expert speech and language therapy service, including a speciality for children who stammer back in the 1970s. We had thanked our supporters, acknowledging Andrew Fowler’s legacy, which made the project possible. And we had celebrated another important moment in our journey, taking forward this legacy which is so important and very special.
We have just returned from the Oxford Dysfluency Conference, which was held over this weekend (17-20 July) at St Catherine’s College in Oxford. This is a scientific conference for researchers and clinicians working in stammering and cluttering. There were 192 attendees from 32 different countries – a truly international conference! We heard about the latest research into treatment effectiveness, new therapy approaches and the nature of fluency disorders.
The Michael Palin Centre team gave a total of 11 presentations, including poster, research and clinical seminars. We presented work which demonstrates the effectiveness of our intensive courses for both 10-14 year olds and older teenagers who stammer, along with some therapy methods that therapists might find useful when working with children who stammer. Sharon Millard, one of our lead therapists, co-chaired the conference and is pictured here giving the closing address.
Action for Stammering Children has sponsored the publication of the Proceedings of the conference so that these can be available to everyone. So if you weren’t able to get to the Conference, you will be able to see a summary of what was presented.
We sometimes wonder what happened to children and young people who have attended for therapy. If the therapy has ended well, we might hope that they have gone from strength to strength, but there is the other possibility that there might have been a relapse and they didn’t like to get in touch.
Action for Stammering Children, the charity which supports the Michael Palin Centre, now funds a few young people each year to return to the Centre if they have suffered a setback. This can occur when the person moves into higher education or goes for their first job. They may only need a few therapy sessions to get back on track and it is wonderful that the charity is able to support this.
Occasionally we receive letters and emails from ‘old’ children, telling us that they came here when they were only ten, and now they are twenty-six and a secondary school teacher. Apart from making us feel old when we remember them, we are also so encouraged to know that they are realising their potential and that their stammer has not held them back. They often say they still stammer sometimes, but it is no longer an issue for them. Success!
Sometimes these ‘old boys’ and ‘old girls’ come in to speak to the current groups of young people and their parents. These are precious, inspirational moments, when today’s children can see that yesterday’s children who stammer have become the people they want to be, with the lives they want to live. Embodying all that can be achieved with the help of therapy and a good support system around them. And that is what we are here to do.
The builders and decorators have barely left the site, but nothing gets in the way of the Michael Palin Centre training programme in the fabulous new Lena Rustin Wing.
Demand for training has been higher than ever over the past year – we trained 400 therapists in Palin PCI alone! In the last few weeks we have run a Palin PCI course for 42 therapists and a Primary School Children who Stammer course for 24 therapists.
They came to us from across the UK and Europe, seeking knowledge, skills and confidence in working with children who stammer. They did not go home disappointed. Ratings on the usefulness of the courses were universally high. Here are some of their comments:
“It’s a pity this training could not be given to undergraduates during lectures. Learned more today and yesterday than 4 years in university.”
“Before the course I felt I didn’t have a clue what I would do with a child who stammers. Now I feel much more confident.”
“Learned much more than I expected I would and all really practical which I can translate to my own clinical setting.”
“This was the best presented training course I’ve attended. It was highly informative and clear and very engaging.”
“The most useful course that I’ve attended to date!”
We have a full programme of courses planned and extra capacity on them in our new building. The subsidy from Action for Stammering Children means they only cost £50 per day – take a look at www.stammeringcentre.org/training-courses