After my first experience school was never the same, I would always panic whenever I had to make a statement. I drew back from conversations in class and was always reserved.
Outside my class I would hardly speak because I didn’t want members of other classes to know I stammer.
Whenever I spoke in class and there was an experience, I could tell by the looks on the faces of my classmates they were trying very hard to not burst out in laughter, but some couldn’t control it. At a point in time I wouldn’t speak unless spoken to. As time went on my mates got used to it and I also got used to being the ‘quiet’ boy in class”. (Felix)
“I was gently practising my breathing exercises”. ‘Breathe in deep into the lower abdomen. Make sure you see your hand move out when you breathe in”, said the therapist. “So, I was seriously practising while counting down for my turn to read out loud in class.
I had just started to relax and strayed into thinking about a movie I watched previously, when the bell went for the end of the lesson. I didn’t know whether to be happy or not at the missed opportunity to try out my new strategy for reducing the fear of reading in class. (Amma)
What it’s like to stammer
Now, who would like to be in the shoes of any of the above persons and live a life of fear and anxiety anytime you have to speak? Yet, communication is so pervasive in daily life that it is unthinkable that anyone can live in this world and not have to talk when they have the mechanism for doing so. For a moment, however, I would like you to consider how frustrating talking can be for people who struggle to get their words out through no fault of theirs.
For many people who stammer, they only have to be seen to be attempting to join in a conversation and they very easily become the butt of teasing, jokes and ridicule by others who seem to have absolutely no clue to the extent of their mockery.
For most people speech can become halting and broken with adequate pressure but for a person with a stammer, it takes much less pressure to make them stumble. People who do not stammer have very little appreciation of the negative impact, in terms of the pain and stress that persons with a stammer have to endure throughout their lives.
Impact of stammering
Clearly, knowing what you want to say but finding it difficult to get started or starting a point and struggling to complete it can be extremely frustrating and take up so much from people who stammer.
Sheehan, a prominent researcher in stammering, compared stammering to an iceberg. He said the stammering behaviours seen above the water surface, such as repetitions, blocks, substituted words body movements are simply just a tip of the iceberg. The real underlying bases for what maintains stammering, he says, lurks unseen in the depths. - Molt L, (2011)
A single episode of stammering, which is speech characterised by repetitions, prolongations, long silences or blocks and sometimes unusual body movements, while reaching for your words, can become an event of ridicule, shame and an emotion-ridden experience that sets the tone for all future speaking engagements. Panic, anxiety and fear every time one is expected to talk can very quickly become the order of the day for many who stammer.
Are people who stammer short-tempered?
Felix could hear the sniggers and giggles that were often present only when he got up to speak in class. For a young person, who has just started to become more aware of himself, this situation can create much bitterness, frustration and even anger. Is it surprising then that people who do not stammer tend to see those who do as short-tempered?
If you had to bottle up for years the teasing and ridicule, the jokes and fun others poke at you because you have a speech disorder you wish you didn’t have but have no control over. If you had to become the “quiet” or “shy’ young man or woman when you know deep within you it’s just a cover-up to hide a speech difficulty, would you not possibly scream at the 11th person who tells you how quiet and controlled you are?
If you always wanted to become a doctor, lawyer, TV or radio presenter or another professional any of these career areas that demand some level of impeccable speaking skills and people constantly reminded you that you cannot, not because you are not capable but because you are saddled with a speech difficulty, would you not flare up one day when you see others less intelligent than you being encouraged to take up similar roles?
Helping the person with a stammer
Stammering is no laughing matter and should not be quickly dismissed and ignored, especially by parents, employers and people in authority, who sometimes make the person with a stammer seem like they can easily put a stop to it by themselves.
Shouting at a child to speak properly, casting funny glances or subtly ignoring an employee with a stammer can only make the situation more difficult and cause more stammering behaviour for anyone who stammers.
It is well documented that people who stammer have absolutely nothing wrong with their intellect and can boast skills and qualities that place them on the same level as others who do not stammer.
Creating a calm, I’m- interested-in-what-you-have-to-say kind of environment for a person who stammers, finding out from them how best you can support them when they find it difficult to get their words out, informing yourself about stammering and showing concern can make a world of difference for many who stammer.
When one knows they will not be teased or ridiculed, it reduces the fear of talking and that in turn helps their muscles to be more relaxed and improve their breathing for speech.
World Stammering Day
Yesterday, October 22, was World Stammering Day. The day is designated International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD) to raise awareness about stammering and educate the general public on the impact of stammering on society as a whole.
The Ghana Stammering Association is organising a seminar at the British Council to celebrate the Day on Saturday, November 1. ISAD is a perfect opportunity for us to review our attitudes towards people who stammer and to look for ways to engage in a manner that will leave positive images and concepts about ourselves for the general development of our communities and nation.
*The writer is a Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor at the School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences, University of Ghana.
Source: Nana Akua Owusu
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