This article is personal as I have been a stutterer all my life. Some years ago now it was revealed stutterers suffering severe ''social phobias'' linked to their speech impediment will be able to access psychological help online after successful Sydney trials for a new treatment.
The SMH article explained that the Australian stuttering research centre at Sydney University's Cumberland campus has been comparing the outcomes of its new internet-based interactive behavioural therapy with traditional face-to-face psychological counselling.
High school mathematics teacher Phil O'Rourke is one of 40 life-long stutterers who took part in the Sydney trial. He said: ''The therapy tries to establish the fact that no one actual cares if you stutter or not, planting the seed that your belief that the world is going to cave in, if you can't get out a word, is all in the mind.''
Professor Onslow said stuttering was a physical disorder caused by unusual brain activity rather than nervousness or stress. It affects between 1 per cent and 2 per cent of the population. 'If you go to a speech pathologist for stuttering, they can help you control the stuttering, but they're not qualified to help you with your anxiety,'' he said.
Now 2015 we can report that the program is one of several tapping into such psychological issues for the benefit of those who stutter.
For whatever reason, I have been a painful stutterer all my life. In 1976 I was working as a locomotive engineman on the NSWGR, part time studies at the University of Wollongong, and seeking the Lord towards theological studies for Ordination as a Baptist minister.
1976 Intensive Clinical Sciences course
Because of my impediment, I thought it prudent to take a fortnight's intensive speech therapy course in Clinical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. At that course, I was re-taught to speak. 'Gentle Onsets' was the name of the game, allowing the outward breath carry a gentle sound which would then be formed as a sounding word as the breadth carried it out of the mouth. There were exercises and we each had to go on talk back-radio.
I was re-taught to speak as in that old advert (Aerogard) - "Didyouhaveagoodweekend". The most difficult situations are lining up to buy a ticket (train, theatre, cinema ...), asking someone directions, shopping and meeting new people. The worst parts are those dreaded starts of sentences or the words that come after a breath when you need to get the sentence going again.
This speech therapy course has held me in good standing all these years although I still get stuck many times, and I am forever changing words (in my mind) before I come to use words in conversation. In effect, like many stammerers, in my mind's eye, I'm up to one or two sentences ahead while speaking out the current sentence, having memorised all the words that I'm comfortable with one or two sentences ahead, and continuously, especially when in a public place.
For sheer memory retention, language agility, vocabulary breadth and doggedness, stammerers are very quick thinkers. The problem is choosing words we know we can use, and avoiding those we know give us problems – and every stutterer is different.
As air flow is the critical component, as illustrated in "The King's Speech", singing is never a problem as there is air flow. Shouting is never a problem or saying things very loudly, and therefore preaching has always essentially, for me, been stammer-free. I raise my voice a lot ..... not so much to emphasise a point, but to avoid stammering.
The Lord led me to a girl who became my wife who had a hearing defect (her mum had German Measles when pregnant). Sweet nothings were loud sweet nothings – I could say them and Delma could hear them! I've always said our 38 years of marriage has been one of bliss as Delma can't hear and I can't talk.
Stuttering doesn't need to be an impediment
You never stop from being a stammerer - as a stutterer all my life and over these past 38 years in Christian ministry, it hasn't curtailed my Ministry as I have:
- Been ordained as a Baptist Minister,
- Been Chaplain to the Australian Cricket Team for 17 years (retiring end of 2000), and establishing Life After Cricket in 2001
- Founded the Sports and Leisure Ministry under Heads of Churches (1982-2000),
- Negotiated chaplaincy ministry 'face to face' to all codes of Australian professional sports,
- Been awarded the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis, Olympian of the Century,
- Established The Basil Sellers Moruya and Tweed "Respite facilities" for AIS athletes and the cricket family and the missionary respite house at Laguna Quays on the Whitsundays.
- Established the Basil Sellers Art Prize (Moruya) and two Basil Sellers Art Centres.
- Written 24 books and theological advisor to Christian Today (Australia),
- Anchorman for the Australian Missionary News IPTV,
- Established Press Service International for young writers to be published§ Chairman of Well-Being Australia 2000 -§ Telling our children (and now grandchild) many astonishing bed time stories (as illustrated by Prince Albert in The King's Speech),§ ... and a lot else besides... there is not much a stammer' cannot do !! Stammers' have been prophets, kings, cricketers, preachers ....
The King's Speech
I related to so much of the 2012 movie "The King's Speech". It was living my life all over again: the struggle; the heartache; the loving wife; the family; the sheer determination; never say it can't be done ..... I was once described as being 'stubborn' ... one has to be, to win through the heartache and pain. Being laughed at or hearing sniggles when I stammer is part of life. Always has been.
The 1982 Churches of Christ Head of Church, Bob Smith, in 2005 addressed the NSW Council of Churches, published in 'Summa Supremo' where he spoke of my visit in 1982 regarding establishing the Sports Chaplaincy. Bob Smith said Mark Tronson had the most 'painful stutter'. Yet he sensed the Spirit of the Lord and said that the Sports Ministry released a breadth of other community ministries.
I've often reflected upon what I experienced as the, "spiritual power in stammering" when negotiating chaplaincy appointments. There was a sense in which the other party recognised something of a divine intervention, with someone who stammered so agonisingly. Distinguished sports journalist Roy Masters mentioned this in 1984 in his feature article on the sports ministry. In addition, many an occasion I perceived in my soul, the right direction to steer a conversation, the 'intuition' (discernment) was over powering.
Time and time again I witnessed a transforming sense of ownership by others of the chaplaincy or ministry project as a result of my stammering. 'The King's Speech' reiterated this strange phenomenon, whereby it was the responses of those who heard King George VI 1939 'Call to War' speech adopted his message with clarity and endorsement. That nation fell in behind the King's message.
I had tears in my eyes as I'd witnessed this first hand many times in my ministry. Way back in the late 70s at seminary I was voted the worst speaker but the best communicator by a country mile!
Turning things around
History has a way of turning things on their head, as God chose in this instance, a stammerer to lead the English peoples through those dreadful WWII years.
In much the same way, the Lord chose not to initiate the Australian sports ministry with a perfectly groomed and attired Sydney or Melbourne private schooled clergyman. The contrast could not have been more telling.
I'm the larger man (rotund), dressed by the suburban men's store, speak as if I'm still a train driver (that I was for 10 years), a fuddy duddy and eccentric, who laughs at himself hilariously, and more, a matured aged student with hard-yakka theological under-graduate, theological prizes and post-graduate honours.
In our young writer ministry where it is Email communication as the young writers are based in London to the West Indies, to Canada and England, to Africa, the USA and Asia, all across Australia and the length of New Zealand, before they meet Delma and I there is good warning. I am 6' and Amazonian, Delma is 5' and petite, I stutter and Delma is deaf. Then they meet us. I carry smelling salts to bring them round !
What is life without humour! We're it ! Our four children (and now grand children) recount so many occasions when at the shops mum cannot hear and repeatedly says "Beg your pardon, Beg your pardon, beg your pardon" - finally dad shouts (he doesn't stutters then) and the entire store can hear - "to the fifth isle down and across one" ....
Some years ago it was pre-arranged we visited our son who was the bank manager of the branch and we were to meet him for lunch. There was a young girl assigned to welcome customers as they came into the bank. We waited until no one else was coming in, we made our entrance and for some reason Delma was wearing dark sunglasses and my shirt was hanging out.
I said stammeringly to the young lady: "Mr and Mrs Embarrassment for the manager." I said it a second time. The young lady looked at Delma with her bumble bee sun glasses, took a step back, looked at us with disbelief, and went into the office part in search of the manager (our son). She came back telling us he would be out shortly and then we let her in on the secret: we're mum and dad. It was laughter all round.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html