Me & my stammer

Leon Redway talks about his therapy experiences — good and bad — which have helped him through school and in his career, and how it's ultimately helped him accept who he is.

"So, in summary Leon, you stammer because you want to, it serves some kind of purpose for you. When you no longer need to, you will stop stammering."

I will never forget these words. They were spoken to me, in the presence of my mother, by a speech and language therapist. It was 1977 and I was 14. This was the exit interview after a two-week intensive speech therapy course in London. I had really wanted to go on the course as it was hoped I would be cured. Also, there was a particularly cute girl attending from my hometown of Chesham and this had played into my mind as an attraction.

During the course we were filmed on video cameras continually. This was really cool as videotape for home use was pretty new in 1977. Then we got to watch ourselves stammer. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, this was the most useful experience I got from the entire course.

Watching myself stammer was the most useful experience I got from the entire course.

For the first time I saw myself stammer: when I blocked my entire body contorted, I stopped breathing, my face screwed up, my eyes closed, saliva ran down my chin. It looked like I had been afflicted with something terrible and was about to collapse dead from poisoning or electrocution. Even my shoulders, arms and hands would contort and I would hunch over, shaking in spasms.

I was shocked. It was brutal. For the first time I saw how other people saw me. Now I understood — many must have thought I had a serious mental problem! This understanding has helped me empathise with those who have discriminated and continue to discriminate against me.

Rebuilding confidence

Let’s go back a bit. Aged 5 I lost my confidence and stopped talking. However, I was fortunate enough to get the help of a brilliant child psychologist. She rebuilt my confidence and I was not just allowed, but encouraged to develop a strong sense of self and an entitlement to be accepted just the way I was. More importantly I came to accept myself just the way I was. My siblings and parents were discouraged from speaking for me and my whole family had to toe the line and allow me to speak. However, I now spoke with a pronounced and severe stammer.

The sessions I had helped my confidence develop despite my stammer. One was not dependent on or affected by the other. My confidence grew hugely and it has carried me through every aspect of my life, in some instances keeping me alive in dangerous situations — until recently.

School & career

Most of my life I have had to trust my judgement, work things out for myself and rely on my own internal resources. As a 4/5-year-old I was classified as ‘uneducable’ — my mother fought this assessment and managed to get me into school…but only for three days a week!

Then, we moved down to Chesham in Buckinghamshire. I wasn’t selected for limited spaces at the grammar school; the education system rejected me, but I had a passion for all things electrical and aged twelve got myself a Saturday job at a local electrical controls and switchgear assembly factory. 

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At sixteen I started an apprenticeship as a ‘Control Panel Wireman Fitter’ and was taught to communicate with customers by writing down everything they asked me to do. I worked my way up quickly and have always enjoyed my work, as it is what I have wanted to do. I studied at college in the evening and at the Open University to learn what I’ve needed to academically as my career development has demanded it.

Me, now

Today I am a 56-year-old engineer of cybernetics now studying humanist psychology so I can practise as a counsellor.

My biggest hurdle has been my lack of humility together with a massive ego. When I enter new groups I have a pronounced sense of entitlement to be accepted, regardless of how I behave.

We are people whose only hurdle to doing what we want to do in our lives is other people’s perception of us.

Speech therapy has played a massive part in my life, giving me the tools I’ve needed to communicate the best I can with what I have at the time. Sometimes I have no stammer at all – other times I look like Stewart Lee in his new show 'Tornado Snowflake' creating a parody of Ricky Gervais ‘saying the unsayable’. If you haven’t seen it,  watch it — it’s incredibly funny and exactly how I stammer when on 'form’.

I am proud of my stammer — it is how I talk. I am proud to be 5’ 6” — it is how tall I am. Neither of these aspects of myself is chosen, they merely define who I am.

I’m so grateful to have found Stamma as this organisation embodies my beliefs. We are people whose only hurdle to doing what we want to do in our lives is other people’s perception of us.

If you'd like to share your story or write about something stammering-related, click here to find out how.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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