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Colin Firth photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas-Press Association

Learn to be a speech therapist

Following his role in The King’s Speech, Colin Firth became Vice President of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children in 2013. Now the actor, who played King George VI of England, has launched the ‘Unlock a Child’s Voice’ appeal. The campaign is aimed at increasing support and training for Speech and Language Therapy, and The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Childrenwill be one of the funding recipients.

He said: “The King’s Speech taught me not only the cruelty of having a stammer but also the life- changing benefits specialist therapy can bring. Just as Lionel Logue unleashed the passion of a king, so too Action for Stammering Children is unlocking the potential of thousands of children in the UK every year.”

I’ve asked Dr Jan McAllister, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia and Trustee for The British Stammering Association, to tell us more about stammering, the role of a Speech and Language Therapist and how one could support individuals who stammer.

What is a stammer?

Stuttering (or stammering – these words are interchangeable) is a speech difficulty that usually involves repetition and prolongation of sounds and ‘blocking’ where the speaker is unable to get their words out despite knowing what they want to say. Around 5% of pre- schoolers stutter, but many recover, so in adolescence and adulthood this figure drops to around 1%.

How can a Speech and Language Therapist help?

To help children to speak fluently, Speech and Language Therapists (known as SLTs) can offer effective treatments such as the Lidcombe Program, which is based on operant conditioning.

If the child continues to stutter into their school years they often encounter negative experiences such as teasing and bullying. This can have an effect on their emotional development; they may become very anxious about talking and avoid situations where they have to talk. This poses a significant problem, however, as nearly every human activity involves talking – for example, forming friendships, taking part in classroom discussion, and interacting with colleagues at work – so this avoidance can seriously limit the individual’s quality of life and achievements. Consequently, SLTs also work with people who stutter to help them to address this emotional dimension of stuttering, using techniques such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT, and to lead fuller lives.

I spoke to one of the Speech and Language Therapy students at the University, Alice Hill, to find out how the condition is taught and how she has learned to support individuals who stammer. On the SLT course at UEA we learn about disorders of fluency, such as stammering, in the first year. Our course uses Problem Based Learning, and we learn about different theories, assessment and interventions for children, young people and adults with dysfluency difficulties. We learn about the evidence behind the different interventions and consider which interventions would be most appropriate to meet individual clients’ needs. On placement, I had the opportunity to observe an experienced SLT while they carried out reviews with children who stammer and talked about their stammer with them and their parent. Afterwards we discussed and reflected on the individual cases and what their current needs were in terms of their education, social participation and general well-being. It is important to think of the child holistically and consider how much their stammer is impacting on their lives.

Newly graduated SLTs are a band 5, and clients with dysfluency are typically on a band 6 SLT’s caseload as there are further courses such as Parent Child interaction and the Lidcombe Programme to undertake.

Where can we find out more?

The British Stammering Association website is a rich source of information about stuttering and what can be done to help. The website of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists ( provides information about what Speech and Language Therapists do and how to train to become one. Students interested in the profession need to gain an accredited Speech and Language Therapy degree, such as the one at the University of East Anglia.

Posted by Patricia Harris on Tue, 31 Jan 2017

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A graduate of Edinburgh Napier University, Patricia undertook her PhD research in the area of stress and retention of students within higher education. Patricia is currently the Outreach Academic Fellow for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia. This role involves raising the profile of healthcare careers and increasing the aspirations of university study within groups of students who typically have lower participation. University can be stressful and Patricia works with the Faculty to equip students with the skills they need to be stress resilient. Patricia is also involved in evaluating attrition and improving retention.

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