When I was asked to write an article for the Irish stammering association, I thought about what to write about and what stood out for me was the topic of peer support. Peer support is very close to my heart as this is where my journey to acceptance started. I have to take you back to before I got involved with the Irish Stammering Association. It was late 2005 and my life was good in many ways, I had a good job, a loving family and a great group of friends but I had a part of me that I spent most of my days trying to conceal. It was my stammer. This process of concealment led to more struggle with my speech and the feeling that my stammer was the elephant in the room that no one dare acknowledge especially me.
Something had to change as daily avoidance behaviours aimed at controlling my stammer ended up limiting a life that I was living and I found it hard to shake the feeling of not quite being authentic. I remember sitting down with my wife and talking about how I needed help. I found out about a support group being run by the Irish Stammering Association. Looking back it took courage to make that first step, to meet other people who stammer, to go to a place where the one thing I was trying to hide would be openly discussed. After ten minutes of that meeting my fears dissipated as I felt a sense of community, of understanding and empathy.
The beauty of peer support is that you have people at different stages on their stammering journey and some with different perspectives. This peer support gave me the foundation for when I decided to go back to speech therapy and a better understanding of where I could go on my stammering journey. After completing my therapy with Dublin Adult Stuttering I took more of a facilitator role within the support group and helped to develop a support group facilitator guide for our association. This was influenced by the National Stuttering Association from America. During this time with the support of the Irish Stammering Association I took up the role of the Chair of the association. This would have not been possible if I had not been involved in peer support.
One of the areas that I feel really passionate about is that peer support is only as good as its vision for continued improvement. We in the Irish Stammering Association are very lucky to have dedicated people in various different roles which now provided support to children, teenagers, young adults and adults and parents across many different mediums from drama workshops, employment and advocacy groups, support groups, awareness days to mention but a few.
One of the areas that I have been focused on and which came about with the use of the zoom platform during the pandemic is the ISA Speaker Series. This new series came about through the belief of connecting peer support with clinicians and professionals who work in the area of stammering research as well as prominent people who stammer in the stammering community. We have had excellent meetings with Dr. Scott Yaruss and Dr. Gerald Maguire, as well as our Dr. Mary O’Dwyer. During these meetings we were able to link stammering research with the experience of stammering and our members found the meetings insightful and thought provoking. Through peer support we can achieve so much, as an individual and as a collective. If you are a person who stammers, a parent of someone who stammers, a clinician, an ally of someone who stammers I urge you to get involved. We are better together.