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Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Reading is centre of excellence in stammering treatment
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Colin Firth
Colin Firth plays George VI in The Kings Speech

The film The King's Speech shows how George VI struggled to overcome his stammer with the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue.

The film lays bare how the King found it difficult to make even the shortest of public statements.

Reading has among the best provision for people who stammer in the UK.

Norbert Lieckfeldt of the British Stammering Association (BSA) said: "Reading has a specialist service for adults and for children.

"This is very rare and very precious to have."

Mr Lieckfeldt, chief executive of the stammering charity, said that although adults who stammered were treated sympathetically, children who did so found life hard.

"We know 60 per cent of school age children who stammer do experience bullying in schools," he said.

"It is very very severe problem for them."

He added the film created a "good opportunity" for people to talk about stammering.

Socially awkward

"Often it's not something people feel comfortable talking about," said Mr Lieckfeldt.

"Then you have things like the media portrayal. It's done either for comedy effect like Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours or to denote that that person who has a stammer there is something slightly wrong with them.

"They are showed as socially awkward, or even as psychopathic killers. In one episode of [the TV series]Cracker, a psychopathic murderer had a stammer.

George VI with Princess Elizabeth and the Queen Mother
George VI struggled with a stammer growing up

Dr David Ward, who works at Reading University, said that nobody knows what causes stammering.

"There isn't one integrated theory as to why it happens," he said. "But it's increasingly clear there's a genetic pre-disposition to stammering.

"It can run quite strongly in some families.

"If you have a parent, a mother or a father who stammers, it's impossible to predict with accuracy what proportion of offspring might.

"However, it's indisputable you're at an increased risk of stammering if you've got someone in the family who does.

"Nonetheless, there are many people who stammer with no history of it in the family."

Dr Ward said most people started to stammer during their pre-school years, or very soon after. The latest age a stammer normally developed was in children aged seven.

New treatment

"It's unusual for it to start after that, though there are examples of it starting after a stroke," he said.

"Developmental stammering starts early early in life.

"If caught early enough, there is a programme called the Lidcombe Program which can be very successful in apparently eradicating this disorder rather than controlling it."

Dr Ward said that stammering was such a complex disorder that psychological reactions could make the condition hard to treat once children had passed into adolescence.

Ronnie Barker
Ronnie Barker played a stammering comic character in Open All Hours

"Once this stammer has persisted into adolescence it's very unlikely for the stammer to go by itself." he said.

However, John*, spoke to BBC Radio Berkshire about his stammer, which he he believed had been caused by him being physically abused as a child.

He said the condition had disappeared as soon as he was removed from harm.

"I had a stammer as a young child," he said: "The cause of the stammer was being knocked around as a kid. I was removed from the situation for my own safety and it stopped the stammer."

*John's name has been changed.

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