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The King's Speech: Hopes for stammerers and stutterers
Colin Firth in The King's Speech
The King's Speech is the focus of campaigns to raise awareness of dysfluency

A Hollywood film is helping to highlight the challenges faced by people with stammers and other communication difficulties.

The King's Speech, filmed partly in Ely Cathedral, explores how King George VI overcame his own debilitating stammer.

Robert Coe, who runs a Cambridge self-help group for stammerers, said he hoped the film would raise awareness.

"It's great news to have someone who stammers portrayed in such a positive way," he said.

"It's not often that stammering gets coverage in the media - and especially not in film.

"Usually you only see it when it's used to comedic value, or even used to portray someone with an unstable state of mind," Mr Coe said.

He runs the Cambridge Self-Help Group for Adults who Stammer, and said he hoped the publicity surrounding the release of the film would encourage people to be more open about the condition.

"I hope there will be a greater understanding of stammering, and that people who do stammer will come to understand that there is nothing psychologically or mentally wrong with them and that, as a disability, you can, and should, be able to receive some treatment."

'Ground-breaking techniques'

The King's Speech explores the methods used by an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to treat King George VI's stammer.

Face and mouth
Lost for words? Around 750,000 Britons suffer from dysfluency

"The king's therapist employed some ground-breaking techniques to treat the stammer, including teaching the king to breathe deeply from the diaphragm instead of taking short breaths," Mr Coe explained.

"He also encouraged him to look at the psychological roots of his stammer.

"We often think of it as an iceberg - the speech twitches are just the tip of the iceberg - and the causes are often much deeper, including feelings of anger, frustration and embarrassment.

"Some of the techniques used to treat the king are pretty old-hat now," he continued. "But, combining the breathing and psychological aspects, are techniques that therapists still use to this day."

Lack of services

Dysfluency - or a lack of fluency in speech - is an umbrella term for a number of communication difficulties including stammering.

"In this country, 750,000 people stammer," Mr Coe said. "That's the same number of people who use wheelchairs."

He is critical of the lack of services available to help people cope with their speech difficulties.

"I would like to ask a direct question to Health Minister Andrew Lansley, who is also the MP for South Cambridgeshire, to ask why, in the 21st Century, there is not a universal provision for speech therapy for stammerers," he said.

"What makes it more bizarre is that the government has dedicated 2011 as the Year of Communication."

The Department of Health gave the following statement to BBC Cambridgeshire:

"Speech and language therapists are recognised and valued for the contribution they make to resolving speech, language, communications and swallowing problems experienced by children and adults.

"It is for local NHS organisations to determine how best to meet national and local priorities for improving health and to commission services accordingly. This process provides the means for addressing local needs within the health community including the provision of speech and language therapy.

"As with any other service, it is essential that NHS organisations assure themselves that resources are used in the most effective way and that the arrangements that are in place meet the needs of their local population."

'Clinical need and risk'

Kay Rogers is the manager of one such local NHS organisation.

The Adult Speech and Language Therapy Department at Cambridgeshire Community Services offers treatment to people with dysfluency.

Mrs Rogers said: "Unfortunately there's never enough resource, but we're a commissioned service and we have to prioritise according to clinical need and risk.

Colin Firth
Colin Firth has spoken at length about his role as the stammering king

"The release of The King's Speech has provided a good opportunity to publicise the needs of people with communication disorders in general, and in particular, people who stammer."

She continued: "Here in Cambridgeshire there is a service for children and adults who stammer - but that's not the case in all parts of the country. Although it's limited, there is a service.

"What we do is encourage people with dysfluency to talk about it with their family, because part of the therapy can be to be more open about stammering, and perhaps to realise it's not quite the negative thing they perceive it to be."

Year of Communication

The King's Speech was released in the United Kingdom on 7 January 2011.

During filming, Ely Cathedral was transformed into the interior of Westminster Abbey. The set took five days to construct and included building a platform to house an exact replica of the original coronation chair commissioned by King Edward I.

Actors Colin Firth, who plays the king, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the therapist Lionel Logue, and Derek Jacobi as Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, filmed scenes in the city in December 2009.

Firth has spoken at length about his role and has become the focus of the British Stammerers' Association's (BSA) campaign to raise awareness of the condition.

The BSA's chief executive, Norbert Lieckfeldt, spoke to Colin Firth about how he approached the role of the stammering king.

Firth said: "It is terribly important to me that if you're addressing the real issue like this, I feel I owe it to myself and to anybody who struggles with it to be as authentic as much as I can.

"It's amazing, if you go into an issue like this, just how many people will tell you I have it, had it, my brother does, my cousin..."

Dysfluency is also thought to affect more than one million children of school age.

To raise awareness of this, and to help to tackle the various forms of speech, language and communication difficulty, Hello: The National Year of Communication , was launched in the UK in January 2011.

Robert Coe can be contacted at: cambridgeselfhelp@hotmail.co.uk

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• I am an adult who stammers. At school I had a terrible time and was regularly humiliated in front of the class when asked to speak, I still get emotinal when I think about it. It is essential that you advise his teacher at school and at secondary school all the teachers. Your son can then decide when and if he wishes to answer without the horrible wait to see if you will be picked to speak next. I did not know anyone else who stammered until I was 21. I have gained confidence as an adult and my stammer is much improved. I could not say my name at school, but now have a job where I speak all the time to the general public and have even done a little public speaking. You can still be a happy confident person with a stammer.
Stewart, Glasgow

• My son began to stammer within weeks of starting school. We went to speech therapy but like Ann in Glasgow, my son became aware of being different as he had to have time away from his friends at school. So we stopped going, but carried on with the regime. The school was very good and once I had explained about waiting for him to finish speaking and not finishing his sentences for him (how frustrating for him!). His classmates were very good and even at Golden Time (where each child got time to say what had been good for them that week) they would wait for him to finish before starting to ask him questions. He still has problems when he is stressed like now, he is in the middle of prelims and studying for Standard Grades. But it doesn't stop him speaking. We have just had parents' night and each teacher seemed to say the same thing - he contributes a lot to the class! I dearly wish he didn't stammer but accept he may never be different to the lovely boy he is now. He doesn't let it bother him so we try not to let it either. But it is so hard watching him trying to get the words out.
Kay, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

• I have a very good Scottish friend who stammered a lot when I got to know him in Bolton University. In Year 2003 he followed us back to China and settle down here with us, marrying a local wife. What amazed me is that he doesn't stammer as he used to in the UK, and he feels more confident and comfortable here around us. So I agree with the film that deep-rooted psychological cause should be dug out and cured. More confidence, less stammerness. He does a much better job in speech now here in China.
Cecilia Law, Zhaoqing University, Zhaoqing City, Guangdong, China

• What you've said is very touching. As an adult who stammers, I have an appreciation of it and think it must be very difficult for parents. On the plus side, as I understand, most children do grow out of it. Some, of course, don't and for people like myself who stammer there are likely no easy answers. I think what you are doing is the most important thing; listening to your child and caring about the bigger picture with him. I would encourage you to continue to talk to people about it and look for support. Don't believe everything that you are told, especially not quick fixes. There is an excellent website called Stuttertalk that I would recommend too. The most important thing is, like you said, to help your son feel good about himself regardless and not to hide it like a taboo subject. Best of luck in your search.
Mark, Dublin

• I am really pleased that the problems that stammerers face are being highlighted due to the publicity of The King's Speech. My 7 year old son has had a stammer from the age of 3 years old, and i have felt very isolated as a parent of a child who stammers, as there is no real support out there. Of course there are speech therapy sessions, which may work for some, but attending these sessions were actually causing my son more distress, and making him feel "different" to his twin brother, and friends, that in the end, he asked for the therapy to stop, saying to the therapist " i can fix this myself". (As a parent, it is very difficult to see your child struggle, and to see their confidence drop, and it was times like this that i wished i had another mum or dad who felt the same way as i did. I felt as though i couldn't help my child, and blamed myself in some way for him stammering in the first place! Who knows if my son will grow out of it, or if he will be an adult stammerer?!

All i want is for my child to be happy and confident in his life, and not to be judged on his speech. I would welcome any support groups for parents and children that stammer, as my son has never heard another child stammering and thinks he is the only one who does it! This makes me really sad as a parent. Being in a group with other children, would surely help stammering children and their parents.
Ann Connor, Glasgow

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