Manchester

Richards Stephens beats stammer to be speech therapist

Richard Stephens with a camp student Image copyright University of Manchester
Image caption Richard Stephens (left) has volunteered at summer camps for American children who stammer

A man who has lived with a stammer since the age of three has graduated after qualifying as a speech and language therapist.

Richards Stephens, 37, from Bury, said he could not say his own name as a child and "wouldn't speak up in class".

He decided to train as a speech therapist after his confidence was boosted through his work as a psychiatric nurse and a support group.

He graduated at the University of Manchester with first-class honours.

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Media captionA man who struggled to say his name as a boy graduates as a speech therapist.

"Instead of going out at night, I've been reading journals," he told BBC Radio Manchester.

"Now I have a mild stammer but as a child it was very strong. I could never be fluent in a sentence so it was on your mind constantly.

"You fear talking, you fear being put in a social situation - it's a struggle because you know the words are there, it's just they won't come out for whatever reason," Mr Stephens said.

Treated by a speech and language therapist from the age of seven, he said therapy failed to deal with his psychological and social problems.

Image copyright University of Manchester
Image caption Mr Stephens said he wanted to "better understand this speech disorder"

"Stammering used to dominate all of my life choices. I first chose to study IT as an undergraduate at Liverpool John Moores because I thought I wouldn't have to talk much and could communicate via e-mail.

"In restaurants I'd order dishes which were easier for me to pronounce and not the ones I really wanted."

He gained confidence in his early 30s after attending a support group set up by the British Stammering Association and said his voluntary work at American summer camps for children who stammer had been a "revelation".

"I want to help better understand this speech disorder, not only for myself, but for the benefit of the millions of people who stammer worldwide.

"The stammer is only a small part of what we train in because we also train in how to work with people who have had strokes, language problems and delays."


Stammering

Image copyright AP/The Weinstein Company
Image caption The film The King's Speech illustrated how George VI coped with his stammer
  • Stammering - sometimes referred to as stuttering - commonly occurs in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing rapidly
  • It can also occur in older children and adults after an injury, illness or trauma
  • It is not possible to say for sure why a particular child starts stammering, but it is not caused by anything the parents have done
  • Stammering is more common in boys than girls
  • It is important to get referred to a specialist as soon as possible
  • Famous people who have had a stammer include King George VI, former politician Ed Balls and singer Gareth Gates

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