28th October 2020
When Pearl Young chose to write about stammering to get into her first choice university, little did she know that she would end up connecting with part of her identity she'd never felt before.
“You know, I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't told me,”
This statement, repeated to me by friends and teachers, never sat right with me. A 'stammerer' wasn’t something other people labelled me as, nor something that I particularly recognised in myself.
My name is Pearl, I'm 18, I stammer and my least favourite word to pronounce is 'glitter'. As a child I had glue-ear which can affect speech development. I briefly attended speech and language therapy and I've been stammering ever since. It hasn't impacted my quality of life in any major way; maybe it's because I stammer in less typical ways. For example, out of the three main behaviours (repetition, prolongation and blocks), I display a lot more blocking.
The societal lack of understanding of the condition has both allowed me to fly under the radar as someone who stammers and denied me a part of my identity. A double-edged sword.
I've become fluent in synonyms and word substitution, which further conceals my stammer, so I am not perceived as a person who stammers by some people. The societal lack of understanding of the condition has both allowed me to fly under the radar as someone who stammers and denied me a part of my identity. A double-edged sword.
Last year I unintentionally undertook a journey of self-discovery. An aspiring student of psychology — with a dream university in mind — I signed up to do an EPQ, an independent research task which involves writing an extended essay, to enhance my university application. I began without an idea of a topic, or with any particular inspiration. That was until the book 'Stutter' by Marc Shell caught my eye — as I read it I realised there was so much more to stammering than I'd ever conceived.
'An investigation into the social, psychological and biological causes of stuttering.' That was my topic proposal. Immediately the curiosity and backhanded compliments flooded in. Part of me was annoyed at having 'outed' myself as a person who stammers, but it was outweighed by the gratification of having this part of my identity acknowledged.
At a certain point my motivation had changed to my personal desire for self-understanding, and the not-so-distant dream of university became secondary.
I immersed myself in the subject, aiming to get the best grade possible but equally motivated by the hope of understanding my own stammer. Having finished the book, I contacted the author Marc Shell, who stammers himself, to ask him some questions, and we discussed them in a call. Talking to an academic who speaks like you do is a form of validation I never realised I needed before.
Then I watched documentaries about stammering, and one particular documentary introduced me to The McGuire Programme, an intensive speech therapy course for people who stammer, and I was kindly allowed to shadow part of the process. I don't think I'd ever been in a room with so many stammerers before — we'd become the majority. I felt this connection with this part of my identity which I’d never felt before. At a certain point my motivation had changed to my personal desire for self-understanding, and the not-so-distant dream of university became secondary.
The hectic months of writing that ensued afterwards were soon validated: my EPQ and the experiences I'd had became a talking point in university interviews — the interviewers would listen intently as I rambled on about my experiences, unbothered by how I stumbled over my words because the elephant in the room had already been addressed. I got into that dream university, and I'm convinced I couldn’t have done it without my stammer and what it led me to experience.
Reclaiming my stammer
Only after I handed in the EPQ did I reflect upon the impact this deep-dive had on my sense of self. After being unacknowledged for years, stammering was suddenly a part of my life again, not as something thrown at me as an insult, but rather something I'd decided to reclaim.
Pinpointing the exact cause of my stammer, something I subconsciously hoped to do, is, has become lot less important in comparison to the overwhelming sense of self-understanding and the community I’d found in the process.
My friends didn't feel like they were walking on eggshells anymore when talking about it, and in some ways appointing myself as a sort of spokesperson for stammerers has definitely changed (a small group of) people's perception of the condition. Because while we as people who stammer may be the one percent — and as a female stammerer perhaps I am even rarer — our small size doesn't mean we shouldn’t be entitled to self-understanding. If we educate ourselves, we can in turn educate others and maybe create a less confusing environment for future people who stammer.
I still don't really know why I stammer. Maybe it's because glue-ear delayed my speech development; maybe it's my larynx or maybe it's even synaptic pruning. These, I found, are all possibilities with compelling research backing them. Pinpointing the exact cause of my stammer, something I subconsciously hoped to do, is, has become lot less important in comparison to the overwhelming sense of self-understanding and the community I’d found in the process.
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The McGuire Programme is one of a number of courses for people who stammer. Read more about the range of options in our Therapy & Courses section.