Practice makes progress: cultivating confident speech

Garry, 47, developed a stutter at a very young age. While his family was supportive, he found school a terrible experience, feeling extremely anxious when it was his turn to read aloud in class.

At 10 years old he underwent an intensive two-week course of treatment that made a big difference, arming him with speaking techniques and building his confidence. Unfortunately his stutter returned when Garry was in his early 20s and running his own business. He had no choice but to interact with clients.

“It was challenging,” he says. “I was forced to converse with people or I would have had to shut up shop. It was a struggle for me, and I know it was a struggle for the people I talked to.”

After another intensive course, Garry’s speech is now ‘solid’, and, to ensure it stays that way, he takes part in regular maintenance days run by the Australian Stuttering Research Centre at the University of Sydney. “The maintenance days are extremely beneficial,” he says.

“Their flexibility enables the speech pathologists to tailor their approach. For me, the best thing is the access to the expertise and knowledge.”

Maintenance days enable participants to revise and practise an already acquired speech technique in a supportive environment. The day typically encompasses individual and small group work according to client needs, personal goals and interests.

Garry continues to attend the maintenance days, which are supported by the Freilich family through the Freilich Research Fund. The difference he has seen is remarkable.

“The ability to voice my opinion and not be afraid of stuttering and blocks is incredible,” Garry says. “I’d like to express my thanks to the Freilich family for supporting such an important initiative.”

As well as adult maintenance days, the centre also runs sessions for adolescents. Fourteen-year-old Stephanie began treatment for her stutter in July 2013 in anticipation of starting high school. “My speech was very bad,” she says. “I felt insecure when speaking in class, I would never put my hand up to ask a question and I knew high school would be harder.

“It’s amazing how much the maintenance day helped me. The best thing was the opportunity to work one on one with a speech therapist and take part in activities that were right for me. My confidence has improved so much and I no longer have to hold back from taking part in conversations with friends and family.”

Herbert Freilich’s legacy

Herbert Freilich lived with a stutter for most of his life. He graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney in 1947 and dedicated much of his adult years to fighting intolerance; raising awareness of ethnic, cultural, religious and sexual bigotry.

His stutter had a great impact on the choices he made, particularly his career, “Herbert chose to specialise in diagnostic radiology because it didn’t require too much talking. He did participate in several remedial speech programs but the stutter would usually return,” Mrs Valmae Freilich says.

Mrs Valmae Freilich

Mrs Valmae Freilich

After discussing the work of the Australian Stuttering Research Centre with the centre’s director, Professor Mark Onslow, Herbert and Valmae felt there would be great benefit in establishing a regular follow up program to support adolescents and adults who stutter.

An ongoing relationship followed with the Freilichs, who began funding the maintenance days at the Australian Stuttering Research Centre in 2006.

Herbert passed away in 2009 but his passion for making a difference to the lives of others lives on.

“Herbert felt strongly about the translation of research into real world solutions and by supporting the maintenance days, we can make a demonstrable difference to so many people,” Mrs Freilich concludes.

Herbert was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for philanthropic service to the community and to medicine.