Lysterfield Owen Westwood works to control his stutter with McGuire Programme

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AFTER more than 20 years spent trying to hide his stutter, a Lysterfield man has decided to “take action” against the speech impediment that has controlled his life.

Owen Westwood, 25, has had the “crippling” impediment since he could talk but time spent chained to a desk in an office job he hated forced him to fight back against “the demon”.

“I felt stuck because of my speech — I felt I couldn’t get a job anywhere else because who would hire a person who stutters?” he said.

“There is no cure for stuttering — the only way forward is for me to take control of my stutter instead of it controlling my life.”

Just trying to say his own name once led to anxiety and poor confidence, he said.

“There are so many people out there now who are experiencing the same feelings of pity and guilt and self-hate because we can’t do things as simple as introducing ourselves or order the food that we really want as opposed to what we can say,” Mr Westwood said.

He hoped sharing his story would inspire other people with severe and debilitating stutters to take action.

In July 2013, he joined a program to start on his “journey to be the most eloquent speaker I can be”.

The McGuire Programme, developed and run by a group of people learning to control their own stutters, includes a four-day course that focuses on the mechanics of speech, techniques for overcoming stuttering and the fear of speaking, the physiology and psychology of stuttering, and confidence building. Participants can do refreshers and work on their speech privately after the course.

Mr Westwood said joining the program was “the best decision I’ve made to date”.

“I went through my early childhood, teenage years, all my schooling with a really crippling speech impediment and it was tough,” he said.

Lysterfield's Owen Westwood has a severe stutter but has worked hard to improve his speech.

Lysterfield’s Owen Westwood has a severe stutter but has worked hard to improve his speech.

“I would avoid speaking situations every day, every chance I got because my fear and anxiety was so high that I would avoid doing speeches at school and being my true self at parties.”

Mr Westwood, a former student at Highvale Seconday College in Glen Waverley, said he never dreamt of taking part in school plays and even asked his English teachers if he could do his oral presentations at lunchtime to avoid an audience of students laughing at him.

“I always had a really tight group of friends but there were a few people who would go out of their way to pick on me, insult me every chance they got because I spoke differently to them,” he said.

Traditional speech therapy hadn’t worked for him because it only focuses on the physical aspects of stuttering, he said.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg — underneath the surface there’s the mental and psychological struggles that come with having a stutter and that’s where the McGuire Programme helped me,” Mr Westwood said.

Since joining the program, Mr Westwood has moved on from the job he hated and now works fulltime as an audio visual technician — and he loves it.

“I’ve been able to take the positive attitude I have from improving my speech into my work and no longer dread getting up in the morning and going into the office,” he said.

Original Article Featured in heraldsun.com.au written by Knox Leader