By Wilma Bedford
Other than any other disability for which for example wheelchair access to a building is provided or a disabled person is treated with empathy and courtesy, the speech-inhibited’s disability is invisible and their impediment is disregarded. Jokes about stuttering may be funny, but in everyday life for a speech disfunctional person it is a nightmare to merely say your name or make a phone call.
Although most children stutter at some stage of their development, 70-90% of them have outgrown it by the time they reach adulthood. Boys are twice more inclined to stutter than girls and it usually occurs between the ages two to seven. The reason for this is not clear, although research indicates that people with high dopamine levels in the brain are more inclined to stutter. The dopamine is related to motor control and is the brain’s messenger. Another possible reason has to do with the learning and development of language; when someone in the family stutters, the child will imitate this and accept it as normal speech. However, there is no proof that there are genetic reasons for stuttering. In adults a sudden onset of stuttering can have a neurogenic cause, such as a brain disfunction resulting from a stroke or other injuries. Other contributing factors can be emotional stress that is the trigger, or the person did not outgrow the stutter during the language development phase.
There is no cure and brain surgery is not an option. To mention celebrities who overcame their speech disfunction, such as King George VI, Marilyn Monroe with her seductive voice or Winston Churchill, is scant consolation for a stutterer, because he/she is already too shy to seek help. The stutterer feels frustrated and embarrassed, probably has a low self-image due to stigmatisation and feels marginalised as unintelligent because he/she cannot find the words fast enough to contribute to an intelligent conversation.
However, with therapy and perseverance a change is possible.
If your child stutters, you have to be aware of your own or the family’s conduct which could be counterproductive. Listen to your child attentively and maintain eye contact so that he/she knows you are listening. Don’t complete words or phrases on his/her behalf, even if you become impatient. Don’t interrupt or correct or criticise. Don’t focus on the stutter by saying he/she must take his/her time or speak slower. Reduce your child’s exposure to stressful situations: don’t force your child to participate in school concerts where he/she has to speak. Talk to your child slower and unhurried. If your child is being bullied, bring it to the attention of his/her teacher and make use of the speech therapy services offered by the education instance. Don’t assume that if your child can sing without stuttering, he/she should also be able to talk with stuttering; when he/she sings, there is no time pressure and no reason to find words or phrases – these already exist and the brain functions differently when a person is singing. The same recommendations apply to an adult stutterer.
If you as an adult have a speech disfunction, there are some techniques that you can practise to help you, although a speech therapist is the appropriate person to consult. Analyse your speech problem: is it for example the first word of the sentence that stumps you, is it a specific sound you cannot bring forth, where in your speech organs do you feel tension when you speak?
Try to speak slower and measured; phrase sentences in manageable chunks; it alleviates stress. Avoid trigger words, find alternatives for them. Don’t avoid situations that will cause you to stutter, manage them instead, for example maintain eye contact with the person you are talking to. If you have to make a phone call, try to do it in front of a mirror where you have eye contact with yourself.
Examine your own negative thoughts about yourself that have come to cling to you and realise what a jewel you actually are. Change your attitude and emotions about yourself and don’t allow your speech impediment to ruin your life. Don’t try to hide that you have an impediment, for example when you have to go for an interview, let your interviewer know that you have an impediment but that it will not influence your work. Be at ease with yourself. Remember it is not how you say something, but what you say that is important.
If you are unable to reach a speech therapist, there are online websites you can visit that offer exercises and advice. The road to speech control is long and arduous and will require therapy and perseverance, but improvement will come.
Basic Goals for a Person Who Stutters.
Williams, D. The Stuttering Foundation.
25 Things I wish I had Known About Stuttering
Lagarde, L. Stuttering Foundation. http://www.stutteringhelp.org.
The Everyday Anxiety of the Stutterer.
Carter, J. Opinion Disability. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com./2016/12/20/opinion.