How speech and language therapy played a vital role in shaping a King and country for World War II - and how it can help us today
Good communication is vital in all walks of life. Whatever age you are, whatever you are doing at school, home or at work, clear speech and language makes a huge difference.
But when you are a King preparing a country for war, your words have the power to change millions of lives.
In January 2011, ‘The King’s Speech’ was released in cinemas; it later won a well-deserved Oscar for best film. The movie tells the story of King George VI and his journey to overcome stammering. Central to the movie is the relationship between King George and his Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) Lionel Logue. The film conveys, with incredible insight, both the psychological and behavioural issues surrounding stammering. This clear depiction can be attributed to the fact that the writer, David Shidler, had experienced stammering as a child. It is thought that there is often a genetic component to stammering and, interestingly, David’s uncle who also stammered, was treated by Lionel Logue.
The characters are charming, the story line fascinating but just as importantly viewers obtain an education on stammering and get an insight into the life of someone trying to overcome a major impediment - not just anyone, but a renowned King!
The King’s Speech blazed the trail in bringing SLTs into popular culture to deal with well recognized communication problems. It started a dialogue about stammering, provided an opportunity to discuss the challenges that people who stammer have to face and then destigmatized it.
So how common is a speech and language issue?
This is an important issue. 5% of children under the age of 5 will go through a stage of stammering at some stage and speech and language therapy has proven to be most effective where the problem is caught early enough. It is estimated that 1% of the adult population also stammer.
As major a problem as this is, the reality is this is the tip of the iceberg. Around 20% (AND I WILL SHOUT THAT FROM THE ROOFTOPS - 20%!!!) of us will experience a communication difficulty at some point in our lives (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists) and whilst some of those will be made up of people who stammer, a large proportion will have different communication challenges.
Despite this common problem, the speech and language profession remains a mystery to many and deals with far more issues than just stammering.
It is estimated that 1 in 20 children under the age of 5 will go through a stage of stammering at some stage. Speech and language therapy has proven to be most effective with children under 5 years where the problem is caught early enough. About 1% of the adult population stammers. As well as King George VI, famous people who are reported to have had problems with stammering include a whole host of household names from screen and stage including Emily Blunt, Marilyn Monroe, Nicole Kidman, Ed Sheeran, Samuel L Jackson, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis and Elvis Presley.
Why is there lack of understanding from the the general public on what speech and language therapists do?!
In 2006 * one third of 651 school students reported that they knew nothing about speech and language therapy and some of those asked commented that SLT is not portrayed in the media or on TV and medical dramas. Which explains part of the problem.
SLTs reach out to all areas of society to help improve communication problems and make a huge different to quality of life. There are currently over 16,000 speech and language therapists working across the UK in a range of different settings and with different client groups.
We have come a long way since the time of King George’s rule. Then speech production was the main focus of the profession. As the profession has progressed it continues to work with both adults and children in the remediation of speech sound challenges and stammering. However, the role has grown to include therapy for language (supporting understanding and expression of language in areas such as vocabulary and sentence structure) and more recently in the 21st century, social communication disorders. SLTs also assess and support eating, drinking and swallowing as well as voice disorders and they support children and adults all around the world.
Therapy for adults who have had a stroke can lead to overall improvement in health and increase their participation in daily events. For children with social communication disorders, intense therapy can support more independent living as adults (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists).
Speech and Language Therapy Today
The field of speech and language therapy has greatly improved in terms of both theory and efficacy since the time of King George. We now work closely with many other professionals. We liaise and make decisions in teams and make clinical decisions based on years of research. When it comes to accessing speech and language therapy, clients have many choices too; via the NHS or private therapy. Our mission to improve the lives of our clients remains the same, but we are armed with many more tools.
Lionel Logue had an immense impact on world history by assisting the King in delivering a speech on the brink of World War 2. Having successfully treated the King, he received a letter on 8th January 1945.
King George wrote ‘I wonder if you realise how grateful I am to you for having made it possible for me to carry out this vital part of my job. I cannot thank you enough.’
It’s not every day speech and language therapists help a King change the course of history. But every day SLTs change the lives of the people they treat.
*Greenwood, Wright and Bithell, 2006 (expert practice: a critical discourse – Alison Ferguson.)
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist
Sources: NHS Choices, British Stammering Association, The Stuttering Foundation.