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Stammerers get helpline
The helpline aims to make stammerers feel less isolated
People who stammer are to get their own helpline to help them overcome a disability which is still viewed as a bit of a joke.

The British Stammering Association (BSA) is launching its helpline with funding from the National Lottery.

It estimates that 750,000 people in the UK have a stammering problem.

Television producer Desmond Wilcox, who is a stammerer, will be on hand to publicise the counselling line.

He told the BBC's Radio 5Live he had learnt to control his stammer by performing and "becoming someone else".

But he still stammered in some situations, such as when he drank too much or was angry or tired.

"While you can joke about it, it is a real condition affecting very many people and making their lives miserable," he said.

The BSA says stammering can be so painful and embarrassing that people withdraw into a shell so they can avoid situations where they have to speak.

Desmond Wilcox said: "What stammerers learn is to stay quiet, stay at the back of the class, develop a dictionary of synonyms so they can sidestep words that cause trouble.

"It gives you an increased vocabulary, but what you lose is the social contact with peers and you feel humiliated."

Learning to speak

Most people who stammer develop the problem when they learn to speak.

Marilyn Monroe had a stammering problem, as did comedian Rowan Atkinson
Around 5% of children are thought to stammer, but most outgrow it naturally.

No-one knows why they do. It is thought that some may be genetically predisposed to stammer because of a weakness or flaw in the part of the brain involved with speech.

But there are also environmental factors. Children with families who put pressure on them to speak at an early age are thought to be more prone to stammering.

And there may be psychological factors involved. Children who are very embarrassed by a stammer may withdraw more and exacerbate the problem.

The helpline will refer stammerers to specialist speech and language services and self-help groups as well as just offer a listening ear.

There will be two trained counsellors on hand between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday.

Isolation

Tim Shanks, the BSA's development officer, says people find it a relief to talk to others with the same problem.

"It decreases their isolation," he said.

He admitted that people with a severe stammer might find it difficult to talk on the phone, but he believes it will help them to know that those on the other end of the line understand their disability.

"For many stammerers speaking over the phone may be a problem, but we try to encourage people to speak on the phone and communicate more," he said.

He added that many stammerers have experience of phones being slammed down on them because people on the other end do not understand their problem.

The BSA also offers face to face counselling, but it is based in London and is difficult to reach for people in other parts of the UK.

Stammering has three main components: repeating the initial sounds in words, prolonging initial sounds or the silent stammer where people have trouble getting words out.

Mr Shanks said it was probably affected, though not caused, by stress and embarrassment.

Comic treatment

And he said the depiction of stammerers in the entertainment world in particular increased the stigma sufferers felt.

"It is one of the few disabilities that gets the comic treatment. Either that or stammerers are portrayed as psychopaths or mentally deficient.

"I don't know why that is. Maybe it is lack of awareness, but it can be a very painful condition. It is not minor, slight or amusing and some stammerers get offended.

"It is a disability and should be treated in the same manner as other disabilities," he said.

The helpline number is 0845 603 2001.

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