Stuttering is a taboo subject. Montreal Alouettes president Mario Cecchini chose to break it by recounting how he stuttered from adolescence to early adulthood, in the hope that it will spark greater social acceptance of stuttering, which affects 1 , 5% of Quebecers over 18 years old.
When Mr. Cecchini was introduced to the public as the new president of the Montreal Alouettes football club, dozens of journalists were gathered for the press conference on this day in January 2020.
After difficult years financially, the Alouettes had new Ontario owners, a new Quebec president, Mario Cecchini, and a new Quebec general manager, Danny Maciocia.
That day, we underlined the reassuring tone of Mario Cecchini, his ease in front of the cameras.
It hasn’t always been that way.
Teenager and young adult, Mario Cecchini stammered. At the time, whoever would become boss of radio stations, TV channels, and then a professional sports team was often unable to say his name in front of a group of strangers.
In high school, when he had a two-minute oral presentation to make in front of the class, he had to repeat it about 50 times in front of the mirror. “It was punctual, remembers Mario Cecchini. As soon as I was confident, with my family, my friends, it was going well. But when I was faced with authority, in a stressful situation or in front of a new world… ”
Mario Cecchini has a long career in communications and business. Before becoming president of the Montreal Alouettes, he was president of Corus in Quebec and CEO of RNC Media, where he managed radio and TV stations. His reputation as a manager is well established.
In Quebec, very few people have spoken publicly about their stuttering. Singers Luc De Larochellière and Dramatik did it. If Mario Cecchini has chosen to tell his story publicly, it is to help other people who stutter and to facilitate social acceptance of stuttering.
It’s cliché, but if it can help just one person, it will have been worth it.
Mario Cecchini, President of the Montreal Alouettes
Even today, Mario Cecchini remembers very well that day when, at the age of 14, he arrived at a golf club to work as a caddy (caddy). Teenagers lined up in front of the manager, who asked them their names. “When it got to my name, I wasn’t able to say it, I was stuttering, and it came out all wrong. He replied, astonished: “What, are you not sure of your name?” The others started to laugh. Sure, it’s funny, and the gentleman maybe didn’t even know I was stuttering. Fortunately, in high school, I was in a school [le Collège Charles-Lemoyne] where we were in the same class for five years. I knew everyone, so I was more comfortable. But every oral presentation was a challenge. You develop things, you try to make jokes, you are more annoying than the average person. You have to find another identity. ”
Mario Cecchini lived one of his most humiliating memories at the age of 17. Freshly arrived in Saguenay to study the media at CEGEP, he didn’t know anyone in his class. “In the guided reading class, when it happened my turn, I blocked it completely, I got upside down,” he says. When I raised my head [après son bégaiement], everyone was laughing. They laughed heartily; people weren’t mean, it was funny to them. Me, it completely humiliated me, there is no other word. It leaves traces. To this day, I am unable to see a scene in a film where a gang makes fun of someone… ”
When he was in CEGEP in Saguenay, he played The little Prince at the theater without stuttering. “In the theater, it’s like you’re becoming someone else,” he says. On the other hand, it was impossible for him, at the time, to approach girls in a social context. Particularly trying to do his driving course with strangers. “You come last, you go first, you don’t mix with people, you don’t ask questions. You are always praying to the good Lord that, when you are asked a question, the answer is “yes”, “no” or “red light”. ”
At the beginning of his college studies in Saguenay, he therefore decided to consult a speech therapist at the Jonquière hospital, who gave him exercises to do to reduce and control his stuttering. Exercises like exaggerating his joint, working his neck muscles when he speaks, speaking more slowly.
For Mario Cecchini, these exercises worked.
After his studies in Saguenay, Mario Cecchini landed a research job at CKAC. One of his tasks: explaining ratings to bosses during meetings. It was wrong: he could hardly pronounce the beginning of the word “audience”. “I was extending the ‘o’. A colleague was having fun with it. I took him aside, I told him why. Just telling him, it helped me. I often used synonyms for audience, like “the crowd listening” or “people listening”. When I wrote my texts, I avoided big consonants, A, B, D, Q. People didn’t realize it. But for me, inside, it was a constant stress. ”
Today, Mario Cecchini no longer stutters. But he’s aware of his turmoil – and how far he’s come. “For me, when I was 17, it’s like last week,” he says. It hardly happens anymore, but it can come back in high periods of fatigue and stress, when I’m nervous, in front of people I don’t know. In my head there are times that I feel it coming back [le bégaiement]. I can then use my tricks to master it. ”
A neurological disorder
About 1.5% of adults experience some form of stuttering. In Quebec, this therefore represents approximately 100,000 adults. In preschool children, it is up to 10% of them.
This speech disorder is very unknown to the general public. Many myths are associated with it. For example, stuttering is not a psychological disorder. A person does not stutter because they are stressed or nervous. In 99% of cases, stuttering has a neurological cause. In short, the brain works differently.
“There is a genetic predisposition. Genetic mutations cause a dysfunction in the brain network responsible for speech which leads to a more fragile speech system, ”says Anne Moïse-Richard, speech therapist at the Marie Enfant – CHU Sainte-Justine Rehabilitation Center and clinical professor at the University from Montreal.
Stress doesn’t cause stuttering. If this myth is persistent, it is because, in concrete terms, a person often tends to stutter in stressful situations.
For preschoolers, there are effective treatments that ensure that the majority of those who stutter can improve their fluency without special effort. However, many children continue to stutter into adolescence and adulthood. Speech therapists then have two ways to help them.
First, with exercises to improve their fluency in speaking. That’s what Mario Cecchini did in Saguenay when he was 17. “In adolescents and adults, stuttering is often more anchored in the brain, says speech therapist Anne Moïse-Richard. We can improve fluency by changing the way they speak, by slowing down their flow. ”
If the person speaks more slowly and pauses, it will be easier for them to stutter less.
Anne Moïse-Richard, speech therapist
There is also a second way to intervene: accepting the stuttering. “We want them [les adolescents et les adultes] continue to do what is important to them, and we support them in this, says speech therapist Anne Moïse-Richard. People have to discern what is important, and they are taught to micro-grade difficult communication situations, with repeated exercises and so on. The person’s stress decreases, and they feel they are climbing one step at a time rather than seeing a mountain. ”
When the exercises work in adulthood, they can reduce stuttering or make it almost non-existent. However, some people will have to live with their stuttering their entire lives, no matter how hard they try to control it.
“It’s a minority [d’adultes] who manage to master the techniques so that stuttering no longer leaves any traces, ”says Jean-François Leblanc, president of the Association stuttering communication. “We need greater social acceptance, people who stutter must not be discriminated against. It’s harder for people who stutter professionally, whether it’s for job interviews or for promotions. Treating stuttering like an elephant in the room, pretending it’s not there, is not a good attitude. ”
“We have also put our energy into seeing how the population can better accept stuttering,” says speech therapist Anne Moïse-Richard. The fact that this particularity is identified as a handicap is very much based on the values conveyed by society. By agreeing to show their stuttering, people who stutter promote a more tolerant and inclusive society. ”