Do you stammer? Do you know somebody who stammers? This article is for you if you do or if you just want to understand the how’s and why’s of it.
I have stammered for as long as I can remember. It has always been the elephant in the room in all my social interactions, since forever. According to statistics, 1% of all the people in the world stammer, more males than females for some reason (4:1 ratio). That translates to 1.3 crore people in India itself, and that’s a huge number!
I remember growing up amidst a lot of advice. Everyone whom I met usually had one solution for my stammer. From singing all the time to reading newspapers every morning in front of the mirror, to speaking very slowly, to eating honey or even having some medicines. While all the advice I got (and I am sure everyone who stammers gets them from people around them all the time), came from a good place, they came from people who understood stammering only through the stereotypes they had seen in Bollywood movies, where the person who stammers is usually the punchline of jokes.
Whatever people who stammer have to speak, is always considered irrelevant. Which means that every social interaction becomes increasingly stressful and has a very deep impact on life, mentally and emotionally. Add to that all the effects it has on the personal and professional lives of those who stammer.
Some studies say that it comes from genes. Others believe it to be merely psychological. Whatever the origins may be, to understand why someone stammers, one must start by trying to understand the general mechanism of how stammering happens and finding out how we can control it.
To understand stammering, it’s important to understand how breathing works. We breathe because the diaphragm pulls and pushes the lungs. Now in stammering, what happens is that because of the fear of blocking on a sound or a word, the diaphragm freezes. When that happens, we are unable to pull/push the air into our lungs, and because of that, it blocks. The facial contortions that appear on the face are a byproduct of that, trying to speak without any air movement.
The blocks cause more fear, and it becomes a vicious cycle which only increases with age.
You may not stammer, but as there are so many people out there who do, I am sure you will run into them quite frequently. That’s why it is important to understand their mindset and educate yourself with facts related to it. Here are some basic questions that come to mind when talking to someone who stammers:
Question: Is it ok to complete the word or sentence if the other person is stuck?
Answer: No. Unless it is a very time-sensitive situation, you should never complete the person’s words or sentences. This actually reduces the other person’s confidence, sends their thoughts into a downward spiral and is harmful in the long-term.
Q: How can I help if the other person is stuck while speaking?
A: You can help by doing two main things. Do not look somewhere else while the person is speaking, maintain normal eye contact, and do not complete their sentences. That’s it. I know it can be difficult to do these, but that’s the best you can do 🙂
Q: Is stammering curable?
A: No, stammering is not a disease, and there is no “cure” for it. It can only be controlled with some breathing and speaking techniques. Ultimately it is all about confidence and breaking out of the cycle of fear and freezing. If one can build up that confidence, stammering can lead the way for eloquent speech.
Q: Is it situation dependent? Can it happen more in some situations?
A: Yes, it usually happens more in stressful situations.
What To Do If You Stammer
If you stammer and are reading this, I am sure you must have gone for one or the other speech therapies at some point in your life. But they seldom help, mostly because the people giving the therapies themselves do not understand stammering fully. It’s not just a physical thing. Unless the psychological aspect of stammering is dealt with, the fear will not decrease, and therein lies the key.
You should definitely check out TISA (The Indian Stammering Association), as well as speech programs by people who stammer, like the McGuire Programme. TISA is more of a self-help group, whereas the McGuire Programme is more professional in its approach and has a huge worldwide support network. But both are by people who stammer and give a sense of community as well as tools and techniques to overcome stammering.
(Full disclosure, I have been a member of TISA in the past, and I am in the McGuire Programme)
The key is to get help, understand stammering and what lies at its core and work on those things. With hard work, it can be overcome.
This is just a step to break that wheel and spread awareness about stammering and empowering people who stammer to reach out. Reach out and get a better understanding of stammering. So that they can get the tools and techniques to work on it and not let their speech become an impediment in life, ever again.
Feel free to get in touch with me over email at email@example.com for any queries about stammering or speech in general.