“I’m not stupid, I’ve a stammer”

The McGuire Programme was founded by Dave McGuire in 1994 and is the only private organisation in Ireland that deals exclusively with stammering. Believing stammering consists of a physical component and a psychological component they endeavour to deal with and overcome the effects of stammering. But it is not a cure.

Stammering or stuttering effects one per cent of the population, having a variety of effects from the more severe speech problems, to world replacement and a general nervousness in social or public situations. Everyone knows someone who suffers from some form of a stammer, but yet there is still a social misgiving about it and people never really know how to deal with people who have difficulty with their speech. This Redcastle girl Breege McLaughlin, knows all to well.

Breege has been suffering with a stammer since she was just eight years old, but since joining the McGuire programme in Limerick in April 2008, this young lady has never looked back.

“I was about eight when I first realised there was something wrong with my speech, it was weird because there was just words I couldn’t say! I had what you call a covert stammer and I would teach myself tricks to cover up the fact I had a stammer such as using other words or I would slap my leg or blink to detract attention.

“For instance instead of saying I’m going to the library, a simple sentence some might say, I would say I’m going to the place where they keep all the books, I just couldn’t say library, there is no reasoning behind it.”

However it wasn’t until she was a teenager that her stammer really started to affect her. Starting secondary school for the first time, is a daunting experience for every child never mind one with a serious speech impediment.

“When you have a stammer you are aware of it all the time, you are constantly thinking about words, and what word might come up it conversation and whether or not I could say it. It was really tough, and then starting school on top of that made things so much worse. I absolutely hated school because of it.

“My mum had to have a meeting with my teachers to tell them about my problem and warn them not to ask me any questions, but still you would always be sitting terrified that someone might ask you a question or forget and ask you to read.”

An obviously confident and chatty girl, Breege said she would love chatting to her friends, but in the classroom fear took over and made her a different person. However the worst thing for the Redcastle girl was the social pressure for people to think you’re really stupid.

“I wish I could have screamed I’m not stupid I’ve a stammer,” claimed Breege.

But since joining the McGuire programmer her life has completely turned around. Breege now has a top job, has been interviewed on the radio, read a reading at her brother’s wedding and even become a coach for other people in her situation.

“I can’t describe how much the programme has helped me, I would never have had the confidence to even think about going for my job as an early years leader without it, as I knew I would have to talk to people and deal with parents regularly. It sets you goals and gives you the strength to become more assertive to challenge your fears and confront them head on.”

Everyone involved in the programme has had a stammer or stutter at some stage, and are therefore able to provide the best possible care and support for the people who join, however, though the intense course lasts for just four day, Breege warns you have to stick with it, and coaches from the McGuire programme are on hand to guide you every step through your life.

“We hold meetings every two weeks and I’ll be going to it for life, it is a lot of hard work, but the results speak for themselves, there are so many wonderful success stories. Since I became a primary coach in November 2009 I have loved being able to help other people who were once in my predicament, and though you will see automatic changes after the four day course, the trick is to keep with it

Stammering itself has recently been thrown into the limelight with the release of the 12 times Oscar nominated The King’s Speech which looks at the terrible struggle George VI had with his stammer when he came to the throne in 1936. Breege is delighted this has thrown stammering in the spotlight and hopes it will greatly heighten the awareness of what 1% us all deal with on a daily basis. The McGuire programme is open to everyone aged 14 years and over and for more information on support see www.stammering.ie or contact Joe O’Donnell on (00353) 74 91 25781.