“How Chaye found her voice”
Frank Foster from Fulham explains how The Michael Palin Centre gave his niece Chaye, 17, the confidence to live life to the full
My niece Chaye and I have always been close. She’s my sister’s daughter but I looked after her every weekend from when she was six weeks old. Due to family circumstances, nine years ago, when she was eight, I became her legal guardian and she came to live with me. Although it was an emotional wrench for Chaye, it seemed like a natural progression – and she sees her mum as often as possible. The strong bond we had really helped. Before, when she had stayed just at weekends, she’d had my undivided attention, but I was unable to keep this up when she came to live with me because I had work and Chaye had to go to school, and all that everyday life entails.
Chaye first showed signs of having a stammer when she was seven. The school engaged a speech and language therapist to help her and she would show me some of the phonetic exercises she had to practise. It wasn’t until she’d lived with me for a few years that I came to appreciate how much of a problem it had become for her. As Chaye was naturally quiet, I had assumed she was OK. However, when she was about ten, she began to get into trouble at school, and they said she wasn’t engaging in class. She told me about her fluency difficulties and how she was struggling in lessons.
I resolved to do something about it. At first, I went to the school to see if they could reinstate the help Chaye had been getting, which had become increasingly sporadic. The next five years became a never-ending cycle of us going to the doctor for referral to an NHS speech therapy unit, letters being sent and then getting lost in the system, then us going back to the doctor again. For some reason the lines of communication would always break down and we never received the speech therapy Chaye so badly needed. However, I refused to give up.
When Chaye was 14, our GP referred her to be assessed at The Michael Palin Centre, through the charity Action for Stammering Children. Following a consultation in Clerkenwell, London, she was accepted on to a two-week residential course, which was fully funded by the charity. A few weeks after our referral, in October 2016, Chaye and I enrolled. Parentsare encouraged to attend to learn techniques to support
the child on an ongoing basis. It’s a big commitment, but parents and guardians are crucial to the process. It’s not a case of sending your child away and expecting them to return ‘fixed’ – this would put an inordinate amount of pressure and expectation on the child. Most people don’t understand that a stammer cannot be cured but with help it can be managed.
On the first day, we were separated – Chaye was with other children and the parents sat together, not knowing what to expect. Then, two past students came to tell us how the course had helped them, and it really put our minds at rest. After the end of the first day, Chaye was elated – she’d loved being among other children with stammers, they were all so empathetic and understanding of each other and a common bond was formed immediately. The children are made to face their worst fears; one exercise is for them to approach a stranger in the street and ask them a question. The response was never as bad as they imagined it would be, and it gave them the confidence they needed to keep trying! The centre helped me to realise that as parents our lack of understanding leads us to see the stammer as something to be cured, which elevates the stammer to such an extent that it overshadows the child, when of course the opposite is true. Everyone involved had tasks to complete and the focus was on resilience learning – which provides a toolbox of techniques designed to help with fluency.
There’s homework, too – for example in a restaurant the parent orders the food but the child must ask for their drink. Saying “A coke, please” is everything when you stammer.
Over the two weeks, parents are asked to look for signs of improvement and make notes. After just a few days, Chaye was more talkative, even starting a conversation, whereas the norm would be me initiating any communication and waiting for a response. Small things can lead to big changes.
At the end of the course, Chaye was given an award: her peers had identified her as the person who’d benefited the most from the course. It was presented by Sir Michael Palin, such a kind man.
There were four follow-up days over the year, which gave Chaye the chance to discuss any difficulties and set goals for the next visit. Chaye made good friends and they stay in touch via WhatsApp. I keep in touch with the other parents too.
I owe everyone at the centre a huge debt for their help and my way of giving something back is to talk to parents on the first day of a new course, to explain how it works, how it helped Chaye and me and how important it is to make the sacrifice to reap the rewards.
Now, my fears for Chaye have diminished. I used to worry for her future, simple things such as interviews, but without any help from me she arranged an interview, did well and got the job! She now works part-time at McDonald’s while studying for her A levels with plans to go to university to study computer gaming and design next year. Chaye now has a wide circle of friends and a lovely boyfriend. Her life is no longer about the stammer, it’s all about her and the brave and beautiful young lady she has become. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
5% of preschool and 1.2% of school-age children stammer, with more than 150,000 children and young people in the UK needing specialist support
Stammerers often have very low self-esteem, lack confidence and experience frustration and loneliness. Many feel isolated and are teased and bullied
The helpline answers more than 500 calls a year, offering advice to health professionals, teachers and families needing support. actionforstammeringchildren.org
Providing specialist help and support to young people who stammer and their families.
Total raised £21,151
➸ Funds raised in The Candis Big Give will be used to run the national stammer helpline, a source of reassurance and assistance for children who stammer, their families and friends, their teachers and others in the community. For those who stammer, life can seem dark and a helpline can help them to find a way through, get help and embrace a positive future.
As told to Sally Evans
Photos by Brendan O’Sullivan
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We’ve highlighted some of the charities taking part in The Candis Big Give. For a full list, and details of the life-changing projects they’re raising money for, visit candis.co.uk/charity
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Total raised: £11,884
What it does: Funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth and provides pregnancy health information to parents.
Candis Big Give project: To help Tommy’s to improve women’s mental health during pregnancy.
Total raised: £83,354
ST PETER & ST JAMES HOSPICE
What it does: Provides care to people who are terminally ill and support to their families.
Candis Big Give project: To allow patients to be cared
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THE BRAIN TUMOUR
What it does: Gives support to those affected by brain tumours.Candis Big Give project: To launch a national early-diagnosis campaign.
Location: NationalTotal raised: £69,979
RENNIE GROVE HOSPICE CARE
What it does: Provides care and support for people affected by cancer and life-limiting illnesses.
Candis Big Give project: To provide the 24/7 care and support needed for young children to receive end-of-life care at home.
Location: Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire
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KIDNEY CARE UK
What it does: Provides support to kidney patients to improve health and care.
Candis Big Give project: To fund unique activity breaks for patients aged 9-30.
Location: NationalTotal raised: £8,924