A speech made by Chloe Powell
a young recovering stammer at a Starfish Open day. Chloe has written out her speech for others to read.
James Foster (Walsall)
Hi I'm James and I'm 16 years old and I'm a proud recovering stammerer. I have recently returned back from a starfish course for young adults which was from July 22nd-25th.
Before I went to starfish I had a stammer which I could hide and most people who i met or got to know me either didn't know i had a stammer. My stammer was terrible but i found that it was worse when I was around people who i knew and was relaxed around. on the days leading up to starfish i was quite calm and hoping for the best, when I arrived at the hotel which holds the starfish courses, I would just like to thank the hotel for hosting the course and for good service, I was so nervous and so were the other teenagers who arrived. We were all very shy and kept ourselves to ourselves. In the evening we all had a meal and got to know each other but the teenagers were all very shy and tense including myself.
In the morning we all met with Anne and David Blight who are so passionate and dedicated to helping stammerers it is unbelievable. In total there were about 12 of us all with either our mother or father, we had to start the course by recording a video talking about ourselves. We then got a belt that Anne and David's friends kindly make just for starfish and then on we started to learn costal breathing and a new speaking technique which is hard work, but if you are prepared to work hard the rewards are spectacular. With the help of the refreshers who are previous stammerers who come back on courses to help 'new people' and their guidance and support is irreplaceable. I would like to thank all the refreshers including Matt, Ross, both James's, Trevor, Tom, Suhail, Barry, Judith the list is too long to carry on but everyone i spoke to and met you are an inspiration and motivation. You are all my idols and my respect for you all will never be doubted. The second day we did role-plays for example ordering food introducing ourselves at parties which was great fun. On the third day we filmed our final video and the progress made by my fellow recovering stammerers was unbelievable and the parents were all so emotional. We ended the course going into Eastbourne shopping centre and asking random people questions and creating situations which would challenge our new technique.
At first it is quite hard and scary but you slowly build confidence. These are the situations that will occur in the future. I would just like to thank Anne David, the refreshers, Pauline who helps Anne organise the course and the hotel. My speech has improved dramatically and i praise starfish. I will be returning in the near future and try and lend my experience to others. If you or someone else is considering going on starfish - don't miss the opportunity. It takes lots of hard work and you get tired easily but this is so worthwhile and the best experience of my life. Also use the phone list it is fantastic for support and guidance, I used it the day after I returned from my course.
All the best James and I hope we might meet on a course in the future.
I am the mother of a 12 year old boy named Christopher Thomas. Christopher has, for all of his short life, suffered with stammering/stuttering. This article which I have chosen to send to you is the end product of a three day course that we have just returned from in Sussex called the 'Starfish Project' and I really feel that what Christopher has achieved, along with all the help and support at Starfish, needs to be shared with as many people as possible to get the message through that there is a way to control your speech................. that there IS help available that WORKS for all stammerers........ whatever age they may be.
As a mother of a young stammerer, the pleasure of watching your child grow is mixed with so much pain. In the security of your own home, the stammer does not matter. We, as a family, have spent our lives telling Christopher that he must not worry, we don't care if he stammers, and if other people do, then they are not worth knowing. It also does not matter if he does not answer/speak on the phone because family and friends etc understand - send them a text message or better still, we will tell them what you want to say.
School life was sometimes tough. Chris has always been a happy child, despite his speech, and has always had a good circle of friends, but sometimes, when the bullying occurred, watching your small son trying to cope with it, unable to answer back because he simply couldn't was unbearable, he knew what he wanted to say, but to try and say it bought more chants of 'st st st stutter boy' and also bought home to us that in fact it DID matter and our advice to Chris that it didn't simply made home life more comfortable, but in the real world, he was out there alone.
Trying to find help for stammering was tough. We attended speech therapy when Christopher was younger and attended quite a few times without any progress. On what was to become our final visit to the therapist, Christopher begged us not to take him there again, as he was sat in the same room as us, shown flash cards with 'dog' 'cat' 'fish' 'rabbit' etc on them, and asked to say what they were!! He was about 10 years old and had done all this at school at a much younger age, and felt humiliated at being put through this again. I asked why this was being done and was told that it would help them to establish what letters Christopher struggled with......... that statement alone told me that there was no understanding from them about stammering, for Chris could reel off the words cat, dog etc etc etc, but putting them in a sentence was a different ball game altogether and also what he struggled with today, may not be a problem tomorrow. We left and never returned much to Chris's relief.
The day came that we had been dreading all of our lives; Christopher left his village school and was now ready for secondary school. A most fearful time for parents of any child, but for us, we had lived in hope that this day would NEVER arrive. The fear that I felt that first day could never be put into words as I watched Chris slowly walk up the path towards the car, carrying a small bowl as he felt so sick, to join a huge school where his old friends would be, but where there would also be so many new children and so many older teenagers - none of which knew about his stammering. I looked at him with so much pride in his new uniform, which, with my other two elder daughters had always made them look so much more grown up when they proudly walked off to their new senior school. Somehow with Christopher, it made him seem so much more vulnerable and his pale face although smiling through the nausea showed a pain that fluent speakers could never begin to understand. One thing I had learned was that Christopher was a strong little boy, and I knew, even though he feared going to school, he would come out and say to me that afternoon after school had finished, 'it was fine mum,' with his usual smile and wave of a hand. What I didn't realise was that 'it was fine mum' was a quick statement that Chris knew made me feel better and it warned off any more questions that he may have to answer if he had told me how hard it really was.
So many things in life that we all take for granted began to be a huge event in our lives as a family. Chris was growing up and needing more independence. Going to the shops - alone - is perhaps something that is never even questioned, once again, such a simple task was so hard for Chris to do, but he managed to always select things from shelves, even if it was not quite what he wanted, and simply hand over the money to the shop keeper and smile, never having to say a word. Ordering food from favourite take away food chains was always done by others, again with nods and smiles to avoid having to say anything, or getting friends to ask for ketchup and drinks. Our need to help Christopher as his parents was getting greater by the day.
A small article in a newspaper one day had us reaching for our computer and reading about a project called 'STARFISH'. Here were written testimonies from people, old and young, who had all suffered with stammering in their lives and claimed that this project could help you to control your speech. A lady named Anne Blight ran the course and immediately we telephoned her to see if there was any help available to Christopher (we had tried other help courses in the past, but age was always an issue). That phone call alone gave us more hope in our lives than we had ever had before. Anne was not judgmental, listened to our hopes and fears and told us things as parents that even we did not understand about our own son as a stammerer! We eagerly booked a course for three days in Sussex, and yesterday, 12th August 2005 I arrived back home with Christopher, who is now a very proud recovering stammerer!!
The course, which we attended, has changed Christopher's life in so many ways, already, after three short days. I have watched him work very hard, along with other young people in the same situation as Chris. Everyone that attended was either a first time stammerer, a recovering stammerer or a family member of someone who stammered. The realisation on each and every small face once they began to learn the technique of controlled speech was priceless to watch. Over the course of three days they became more confident - the voices that projected from EVERY child there grew louder with the knowledge and understanding that they gained, and what was a pretty quiet room when we all walked in (very apprehensively) on that first day, a room that was full of quite quiet, apprehensive children and adults, became a room full of chatter and laughter by the last day...................... ALL made by children that only a few days before would have been more than happy to stand in a corner and nod and smile rather than join in any conversation. It is not a miracle cure; it is a technique that anyone can learn who has a stammer. Children who could not say their name, children from all walks of life, children that had walked a path of frustration and fear were speaking in a controlled way that helped them with their stammer and made them HEARD and heard for who they really are. Two words that I heard more than any other words were thank you. Words that as parents, we are always telling our children to say. Those two words came naturally from their mouths without any prompting.....................
As it was myself that was fortunate to go with Christopher I could watch, hear and observe the delight and amazement on my husbands face, my other two daughter's faces and those of friends and family once they had either seen or spoken to Christopher since our return. Christopher stands up straight now, holds his head high and speaks clearly and with control, saying what he wants to say, joining in conversations and making telephone calls/ answering telephone calls without ANY fear. He has already gone into shops and asked for items that he would never do and even went into a Travel Agent and asked the current exchange rate of the Euro to the pound!!!!! Yes, my son Christopher!!!!
I am the proudest, happiest mum in the world. Christopher is the happiest he has ever been........... and the chattiest!!!! I urge everyone who has taken the time to read this to encourage everyone they know with a stammer to find out and seek help through the Starfish Project.............. they will NEVER look back.
It is happier road that Christopher now walks, a more controlled road than he has ever walked before. He knows, as well as I do that there will be bad days when sometimes he may fall off track a little, some days where the stammer may creep back up on him when he thinks he has this thing 'licked'. It will never be licked, but it will ALWAYS be in his control, the more he puts into it, the more he gets out. Christopher is out now, swimming with one his friends who HE called up on the telephone this morning and asked if they would like to go swimming with him! He also called another two friends to report on his progress from Starfish - what a boy!!!
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Yvonne Thomas - proud mother of Christopher Thomas - a recovering stammerer.
The Starfish Project - A Parents Point of View
At about the age of 4 I realised that my daughter, Chloe, had some sort of problem with her speech. I had been advised by various doctors and health visitors that her brain was working faster that her mouth and that she would grow out of it and that I was not to worry. Well I did worry and after seeing various speech therapists and stammering specialists we felt we were getting nowhere. Chloe resented going, cries of “It's not helping Mum, it’s not worth going!” made me realise that something had to be done. I felt so desperate and useless, I was her mum, surely there was something I could do.
Secondary school was looming ever nearer and some of her friends were making comments about her speech. Her teachers never made her read out in class and at registration she just had to put her hand up when her name was called. I felt Chloe was missing out on her childhood. There were things she wanted to say but couldn’t. At restaurants I would have to order for her and if the phone rang she would just let it ring rather than have to answer it. If she ever wanted her friends to come round for tea I would have to ring them for her. I felt so desperate for her that I actually considered teaching her sign language.
Chloe loved to sing and would think nothing of standing up in front of 200 people to perform, however, if any speaking was involved she would refuse to join in.
I can still remember the phone call from my mum. She had seen a documentary on Channel 4 about stammering. Unfortunately she had not taped it so I spent the next few months trying to track down a copy. Remarkably it was Chloe’s Speech Therapist who had taped the programme and whilst she was with Chloe I sat and watched in the Staff Room. I remember walking out of the room and thinking, yes, there is hope, there may be a way to help her.
I immediately telephoned Anne when I returned home. I can honestly say I had never spoken to anyone like her before, she was so passionate about helping stammerers, I felt she understood what I was telling her but the only drawback was Chloe’s age.
Several phone calls later and just before her birthday Chloe attended the Starfish Course at the Boship Hotel. I know she was extremely nervous, we both were. The thing which amazed me the most was the amount of Refreshers who were on the course, not only to work on their own speech but also to help the new Recovering Stammerers. I was overwhelmed by the commitment and dedication these people gave. On leaving the course I felt that help was only a phone call away. We were part of ‘The Starfish Family’.
On our return home it was only then that I realised how important it was for me to attend the course with Chloe. I understood the technique and could encourage her to use it, after all, it was the only thing that had worked. Worked is the operative word. For now the hard work began, I was called an evil mother because on occasions when I would have had to speak for Chloe, I refused to. I knew that if I spoke for her she would not be using the technique. She knew it worked, I knew it worked, the more she spoke in front of people, the more confident she got.
Four weeks after the course Chloe went for an audition, initially for a singing part. They were so impressed with her, she was asked to try for a major part, at first she refused, but with encouragement and cries of “come on Clo, you can do it, are you going to let the stammer win?” she agreed to have a go. When she returned the smile on her face said it all, it didn’t matter whether she got the part or not, in my opinion she had done the bravest thing, something she would never have done before! I was so proud of her!
I had been into the school and explained to them about the course and anything they could do to help or encourage her. Her teacher was so supportive. She would regularly listen to Chloe read, encourage her to take part in the plays and answer questions out loud in class. If she used the technique she could do it. One of the proudest moments for me was at the School Harvest Festival which was held at our local church. Approxinately700 people attended and in front of all of them Chloe got up and said “Now we will sing our final hymn Lagarto si”. There were tears streaming down my face (Imagine your child playing the part of Mary in the Nativity - you get the picture!) I felt so proud, in fact my eyes are misting over just writing this.
Chloe is now 13, she attended the August course last year and we will also be at the Easter course 2005. Yes, Chloe does have bad days when she really struggles, yes we still go back to basics with the technique and yes she still works extremely hard on her speech. She has been given the tools to do the job and now she has to use them. We also attend the Support group every third Sunday which is a great help, in fact our whole family go because I feel it is important that the people who matter the most in her life should know how to help and encourage her. Chloe regularly uses the phone list, our phone bill is enormous but I’ll tell you something , I don’t care! There was a time when she wouldn’t even pick up the phone.
I don’t know what it is like to stammer, I have never had a problem with my speech. However, I do know how it feels to be a mother, a mother who would do anything to help her child have a better life and be able to say what she wants and when she wants to say it.
I cannot thank Anne, David, Hayley, Nigel, Michael, Richard etc. etc. enough - The Starfish Project has certainly changed Chloe’s life.
Extremely proud mum of Chloe Powell - Recovering Stammerer
Its been a week now since Lewis attended his course at Boship farm, and I am pleased to inform you that, in the words of one of your students, he is absolutely fantastic! He is keeping up his technique really well, his sister told me today that she hasn't heard him stammer since we came back, and he has told her what he wants her to do to help him. He is also wearing his belt for school, even on pe days, when I told him he didn't have to if it made him embarrassed, he told me he didn't care because it helped his speech, and if anybody asked what it was that's what he would tell them.
We thought he talked a lot before, as I'm sure you noticed, but that was nothing compared to now, he talks non-stop because in his words,"I like talking and now I can there's nothing to stop me", and do you know what, nobody tries to stop him because it sounds brilliant. He still has the odd slip when he forgets to breathe or when he is excited, but the good thing is he recognises it and corrects it himself.
I never thanked you properly last week as it was a very emotional time for all concerned, there are no words that can express our gratitude sufficiently but thankyou anyway for all the help and motivation you gave last week, how you kept the attention of those children for so long I will never know.Please thank all the others for us as well for all the help they gave, nothing was too much trouble for them.
Here is the photo I took in the Arndale Centre on the Friday, unfortunately I didn't get everybody on, I can only suggest it was the fault of the extra wide smiles on everybody's faces!
Lewis has not contributed to this because he is going to ring instead, I hope you have a long answerphone tape.
I hope to see you all soon,
Kevin Balyckyi - the proud father of a recovering stammerer
Re. The Starfish Project.
My son Tom rarely allowed his stammer to stand in the way of a busy social life.His many friends accepted him the way he was, as of course did his family, but what we saw on the outside was just the tip of the iceberg.
It was Tom who wanted to attend the Starfish course. If Im honest I was sceptical. If the technique was so effective, why wasnt every speech therapist using it?
In August we became part of the first Starfish course for young people. For the first time in his life, Tom was amongst people who really knew what life as a stammerer was like. Being able to speak to other parents who knew the pain of having a child who stammers was also a unique experience for me. As you might imagine the course was emotional from the start. Annes remarkable understanding of stammerers was only exceeded by her compassion for them.
The one-to-one contact with adults who had attended previous courses was the key to Toms recovery. The people who selflessly gave up their time were solid living proof that Tom could beat this. Their constant support and belief in the young people was astounding.
Tom left the course a different boy, confident, focused and relaxed. His speech, clear, strong and controlled. Its early days at the moment , Toms on a high, eager to speak, make his calls, keen to use the new technique, which has given him so much freedom. It may not always be this easy, but he knows that if he lapses and needs help he has the support of the whole team.
If Tom becomes lazy and lets the technique slip, we can pull him up on it, because for the first time ever he knows as well as we do, that Starfish has given him a tool to control this thing. All he has to do is use it!
Kerry Evans, Swansea
I cannot begin to thank you all for what you have brought out in Sam.
But, I thank you anyway.
My thanks for an amazing three days and thank you for giving Laura back her self-confidence, during the course she was back to her old mischievous self.
I have never seen such compassion and dedication from you, and all your helpers; will keep you informed on Laura's progress.
Lynn, County Durham
My Son & I went on the Starfish course in March this year. I can honestly say they the most emotional 3 days I have ever spent. I spent most of my time crying, it's unbelievable the passion that Anne & David have, and the support from the refreshers. To hear my Son speak fluently after stammering for 11 years was better than winning the lottery. He went back as a refresher on Sunday, being part of starfish is like being a member of a huge family. If anyone reading this has a child with a stammer, please, please, please get them on a starfish course, it has changed my Son's life.
It's a brilliant opportunity for people who have a stammer and my son has had it since he started school. He is now nearly 13. He came home and said i can now speak properly and was punching his hands in the air. That for me was a very special moment. Thank you to all involved in the project and my son will be down on the refreshers without a doubt.
Claire - Sheffield