Maigret's Dead Man: Rowan Atkinson stars as French detective
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With another of Atkinson’s successful film franchises – Johnny English – being shown on ITV2 tonight (Sunday, April 3), it makes his transformation from a “shy [boy] with a slight stutter and a slightly rubbery face just like the one he has now,” to a BAFTA winning actor all the more impressive. A stutter, also called stammering, is a speech disorder that can cause frequent and significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. The Mayo Clinic explains that individuals who stutter most likely know what they want to say, but have difficulty in saying it.
When asked if he still lives with the affliction back in a 2007 interview, Atkinson replied: “It comes and goes.
“I find when I play a character other than myself, the stammering disappears. That may have been some of the inspiration for pursuing the career I did.”
Also suspecting that acting helped him overcome his speech impairment was Canon John Groves, who taught at the school that Atkinson attended as a child. Writing in the actor’s 1999 biography, he said: “In class he was very middle of the road.
“There was nothing outstanding about him. I didn’t expect him to become a fantastic scientist. And he was a quiet lad who walked his own path.
“But when he walked on-stage he was exceptional.”
Stuttering is common among young children as they learn how to speak, but most children outgrow this as they develop. However, for some this stutter persists into adulthood and can impact not only a person’s interactions with other people but their self-esteem.
Symptoms or signs of a stutter include the following:
- Difficulty starting a word, phrase or sentence
- Prolonging a word or sounds within a word
- Repetition of a sound, syllable or word
- Brief silence for certain syllables or words, or pauses within a word (broken word)
- Addition of extra words such as “um” if difficulty moving to the next word is anticipated
- Excess tension, tightness, or movement of the face or upper body to produce a word
- Anxiety about talking
- Limited ability to effectively communicate.
Along with stuttering words, individuals may also suffer from rapid eye blinks, tremors of the lip and or jaw, facial tics, head jerks or clenching fists.
In addition to this, stuttering may be worse when the individual is excited, tired or under stress, meaning individuals tend to avoid high pressure situations or talking in front of a group of people or on the phone.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) explains that there are usually multiple causes of stuttering, including both family history and brain differences – small differences in the way their brain works during speech. Although not known why, stammering is also more common in boys than girls.
There are two main types of stammer, both of which slightly differ:
- Developmental stammering – the most common type of stammering that happens in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing quickly
- Acquired or late-onset stammering – is relatively rare and happens in older children and adults as a result of a head injury, stroke or progressive neurological condition. It can also be caused by certain drugs, medicines, or psychological or emotional trauma.
Getting help for a child’s stutter as soon as possible is key for helping to reduce the chances of the stuttering continuing into adulthood. Strategies that are often used to help at this stage are known as either direct or indirect.
The former helps a child change how they speak whereas the latter are ways to help make it easier for a child to talk. These strategies can include slowing down your own personal speech and asking fewer questions. The aim of indirect therapy is to create an environment where a child feels less pressure when speaking.
Usually children and parents will work with a therapist to choose a suitable plan tailored to the individual.
Treatment for individuals who have stutters in adulthood focuses more on managing symptoms. The most common types of therapies include solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), personal construct therapy, neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Although these therapies do not treat stammering directly, they can be helpful if individuals experience negative feelings as a result of stammering.
Some people also benefit from using feedback devices, which alter the way you hear your own voice. These include:
- Delayed auditory feedback (DAF) – these play your voice back to you a fraction of a second after speaking
- Frequency-shifted auditory feedback (FSAF) – these play your voice back to you at a lower or higher frequency
- Combined DAF/FSAF devices – these use a combination of both methods mentioned above.
Often fitted inside or around the ear – similar to a hearing aid – feedback devices can help to improve the fluency of an individual’s speech. However, these do not work for everyone and may be difficult to use in some situations.
When supporting someone who stammers, the NHS recommends trying to do the following:
- Avoid finishing their sentences if they’re struggling to get their words out
- Give them enough time to finish what they’re saying without interrupting
- Avoid asking them to speak faster or more slowly
- Show interest in what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it, and maintain eye contact.
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