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Stammer School

Stammer School

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The nation took stammerer Musharaf Asghar to their hearts in Educating Yorkshire. Catherine Scott finds out why he is back on our screens tonight.

When teacher Mr Burton suggested student Musharaf Asghar wear headphones to try to combat his stammer in Educating Yorkshire it was an explosive piece of television.

“I’d been watching the film The King’s Speech and I thought I’d see if it worked for Musharaf,” says Mr Burton, who was as surprised as anyone when the 17-year-old started to speak without a stammer for the first time. But there were those who were critical of the technique. Among them was Rich Whincup, of the McGuire Programme, the recovery programme for stammers run by recovering sufferers.

“It was great in that it enabled him to get through his GCSEs and get the grade C he needed in English, but it just isn’t a practical solution to stammering,” says Whincup, a recovering stammerer himself.

“You can’t exactly wear headphones to a job interview. The first time you hit a major block you just become a stammerer wearing headphones.

“When I first saw Mushy it reminded me very much of myself. I could hardly speak a word and then realised that in order to achieve what I wanted to I needed to learn how to communicate.”

McGuire contacted Channel 4, makers of award-winning Educating Yorkshire, and suggested that Musharaf attend one of their private four-day residential courses.

The result, Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, airs tonight on Channel 4.

The hour-long programme follows Mushy, from Dewsbury, and four other young stammerers as they embark on an emotional journey in their bid to communicate with the world.

During the course, participants learn methods devised 20 years ago by US-born Dave McGuire. Because its techniques aren’t yet supported by official research, the program isn’t endorsed by speech therapists, although many do recommend it. Bradford singer and actor Gareth Gates is a McGuire coach, as he has been helped by the programme.

Alongside Mushy is 23-year-old Vicky Croft from Liversedge. Unlike Mushy and the other participants, Vicky only acquired a stammer after she suffered a slight stroke last Christmas.

“I was a bubbly out-going person –the life and soul of the party. I would be out four or five times a night socialising with friends and then suddenly I couldn’t speak without stammering,” says Vicky, who suffers from a severe form of a condition called hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). It means that her blood vessels and arteries aren’t formed properly, causing external and internal bleeding. It is believed to affect one in 5,000 people. For some the genetic disorder can cause serious nose bleeds; for others, like Vicky, her lungs and internal organs 
bleed causing serious health problems

“I was 18 when I ended up in hospital black and blue and with broken and cracked ribs. I hit a really low point, but then I decided that I wasn’t going to let this condition define my life.”

She has the same determination to deal with her stammer, which is not stopping her raising awareness of HHT, although for a while it really knocked her self-confidence.

“I went from this really vivacious person to someone who wouldn’t go out. I was refused entry to a place once because they thought I was drunk, I just wasn’t able to get my words out. So I stayed in, just going out to work. I split up with my boyfriend. I was very unhappy.” It was her speech therapist who suggested she take part in the McGuire programme and the documentary.

“I was sceptical at first,” admits Vicky. “Also I was scared of failing. When they told me what I was going to have to do, to learn to breathe I thought ‘you’ve got to be joking. I can do that in my sleep’. I just didn’t want to be there. But my coach Jennifer convinced me to stay and by the end of the first day I could say my name without stammering.”

During the course, which finished just six weeks ago, Vicky, Mushy and the other stammerers have to use the telephone, go out and speak to 100 strangers and stand in a crowded room and make a speech.

The entire experience has been very emotional and also life changing for Vicky and Mushy.

“I’m back,” Vicky says with a laugh,” and better than ever. I have my confidence back. I am out socialising again and have a new boyfriend. If I hadn’t had my stroke I would never have known about McGuire, I would never have met life-long friends or taken part in the programme and been able to raise awareness of HHT at this level,” adds Vicky, who is hoping to become a McGuire coach herself. She knows it is not a cure and will have to work hard every day to keep on top of her stammer.

As for Mushy, he too has managed to achieve some of his ambitions. He has been able to carry out work experience at his old school, Thornhill Academy, and is pursuing his dream to become a teacher.

“I know for some people it is just speaking,” he tells the programme. “But to me and my family it’s a chance to show the world who I am.”

Stammer School is on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight

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