By Mark Squibb | Vol. 7 No. 6 (March 28 2019)
When Greg O’Grady was called upon for roll call as a child, he often didn’t give his real name.
“At times in school when I was called upon for roll call, or to introduce myself, I had trouble with my name. So, I used to change my name. I used to say, instead of Greg, I used to say Joe. That’s easier to say,” he told The Pearl.
O’Grady is a person who stutters.
Growing up in Newfoundland, O’Grady says he didn’t know the severity of his own stutter. He claims he was a ‘covert stutter’— one who hides their stutter by keeping quiet, sticking to easier words, or avoiding social situations.
“I realized the severity when I went to St. John’s airport to buy my plane ticket for Ontario. I couldn’t say a word,” O’Grady admits.
And once he moved to Ontario in 1973, things only got worse.
“I realized that I couldn’t hide any more. I was out on my own. I was not protected. So, then I started to spiral because my speech got even worse.”
In was in Ontario that O’Grady first started speech therapy.
Years later, he felt the need to give back to an organization that helped him so much.
As a thank you to the Speech and Stuttering Institute of Toronto, he started up “A Million Things I Need to Say”, a fundraising walk and run, in 2012.
The event helps raise stuttering awareness and funds to help subsidize patients’ treatments and is held annually to this day.
When O’Grady retired and moved back to Newfoundland in March of 2017, he was disheartened to find what he says is very little in the way of support for people who stutter.
Little, it seems, had changed since his days of growing up in Gander and Harbour Grace.
That’s when O’Grady decided to organize the first “A Million Things I Need to Say” run in St. John’s in September of 2018 in support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (NLASLPA).
Shortly after giving his personal testimony at a NLASLPA conference that same September, he was contacted by Michelle Delahunty, a Registered Speech-Language Pathologist.
“She suggested that we collaborate to identify the needs of the stuttering community in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said O’Grady.
The decision to form the Newfoundland and Labrador Stuttering Association (NLSA) was made that November by a group of about seven committed to better serving the stuttering community.
On Thursday, March 21, the group, which is registered as a not-for-profit and has made application for their charitable status, held its first monthly support group.
“People want the support; they need the support. And they need an opportunity and safe environment to share,” said O’Grady.
He said that the first meeting, of which seven people attended, was a great success.
“It’s a great step. My thinking is if we have one person show up it was a success.”
“It only reinforced what the committee had identified initially,” he explained, which included a lack of resources and awareness.
He says that the support group is open to all ages, and to both people who stutter and their friends, family, and significant others.
The group meets every third Thursday at 7:00 p.m., at the Reid Community Centre in Mount Pearl, in the boardroom.
O’Grady says that a large part of the NLSA mission to educate people on the emotional and mental toil facing people who stutter.
When explaining how debilitating stuttering can be, O’Grady uses the analogy of an iceberg.
“In the stuttering community we use the analogy of the iceberg… the tip of the ice berg is ten percent of what we see: the physical grimaces, their repetitions, the word substitution…. But what people don’t see is below the tip of the iceberg, which is 90 percent of the stuttering: and that is the embarrassment, emotional and psychological issues, shame, low sense of self worth, embarrassment, a sense of isolation.”
“These are the issues that the ‘normal speakers’ do not hear, do not see.”
Tasks like booking appointments, making phone calls, speaking up at a meeting, or even talking with a close friend can be momentous for a person who stutters explained O’Grady, adding that he knows plenty of people who stutter who choose careers where they would not be expected to speak up much.
“When you think of something, you say it. When you hear the phone ring, you answer it. When you want to make an appointment, you call and make an appointment. For a person who stutters, it can be a real challenge. Just imagine being at a job interview and the words don’t come out. You answer the phone, and the words don’t come out.
“Just think about, if you’re trying to make a phone call or talk to a friend, or talk to whoever, and the words won’t come out, just think of all the emotions; the embarrassment, the sense of isolation.
O’Grady says that the public, when communicating with a person who stutters, can be quite harsh.
“People feel uncomfortable; they don’t know what to say; should they help the person who stutters finish their words— which you should never do— and they look away, and sometimes they can be very inappropriate by saying “well, hurry up,” because you don’t hurry up a person who stutters. Sometimes on the telephone they hang up.
“I can’t really condemn their response because a lot of it is that people just do not understand. This is just what we’re trying to do; create the awareness.”
The best thing to do with talking to someone who stutters?
“Ask the person who stutters, ‘What can I do to help you?’” said O’Grady.
The NLSA has several events planned for the year, including the second annual “A Million Thing to Say” event in Sept., a speech and language educational day on Nov. 1, and an international conference on Nov. 2.