I can see
I can hear
I can sprightly walk.
Why do all my problems surface
Only when I try to talk?
By an anonymous stammerer
Stammering is much more than just not being able to speak properly or stuttering over every couple of words – it is a communication and behavioural disorder that affects many significant aspects of the person’s life. In fact, experts compare stammering to an iceberg – of which speech disorders are merely the tip.
 Did You Know?
- One in 20 children has some sort of a stammer at some time. Most recover, with or without help.
- Only one per cent of adults stammer.
- Stammering is four times more common in boys than in girls -- as many as 80 per cent of all people who stammer, are male.
- In families where a person has a stutter, there's an increased risk that other members will have the same problem.
- There are more than 45 million people in the world today who stammer and approximately 10 million live in India .
- Birth order seems to be significant – it is the first born who is likely to be afflicted by this problem.
- Actually, all stammerers have periods of fluency when they are emotionally relaxed. Usually, even the severest stammerer can sing fluently without any speech blocks!
 Why People Stammer
There's no simple, obvious cause of stammering, but it's likely to be due to a variety of factors rather than a single one. These factors may be genetic or environmental, such as problems in the home or at school.
To understand why stammering occurs, we need to understand speech first. Speech involves a delicate coordination between thought, transmitting of electro-chemical messages from the brain to the appropriate muscle groups and that physical movement of the tongue that results in the production of sound. Research suggests that stammering might be caused due to a 'neurological mistiming' – basically it means that the speaker is confused about when exactly to say the word he wants to say.
This neuro-muscular balance may get upset once in a while in all of us – say when we are stressed, or angry or overjoyed. However, in the case of chronic stammerer, this balance gets upset much more frequently than it does for normal speakers. All potentially fearful situations trigger off spasms of speech-blocks in the stammerer’s mind.
The reason why most stammerers are able to sing perfectly clearly is that they know exactly what word is to follow, and when. Conversations are different – stammerers find it tough to maintain a smooth forward flow of words that comes so naturally to other people.
Stammering tends to snowball. When a child first stammers, he develops such a horror of it that keeps growing. With every passing year, this anxiety grows larger and larger until the child begins to experience tremendous frustration, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, and even guilt. And slowly, as he becomes less fluent in his speech, he loses his confidence as well.
 The Stammering Syndrome
People who stammer usually display some or most of these behavioural traits --
- They tend to avoid meeting the eyes of their listeners, maybe because they don’t want to see their reaction to their stammering.
- Most people learn very early in life how to talk and breathe naturally at the same time. Stammerers however, often display irregular breathing patterns, trying to often speak with little or no air in their lungs. Some even try talking while inhaling.
- Some stammerers try getting over their affliction by replacing simpler words and phrases for words that they feel they will definitely stammer on. Some stammerers are so successful in using this technique that nobody, not even their spouse, knows that they stammer.
- Stammerers tend to react to stress by tightening the muscles of their vocal cords. This probably explains why stammering often becomes worse when under stress.
- An unfortunate but true fact is that many stammerers avoid stammering by avoiding speaking altogether.
 Self Image of Stammerers
It is a vicious circle – stammerers often stammer because they feel inadequate, and the very act of stammering further lowers their self image. Here is the gamut of negative feelings that stammers go through.
- Shame: stammerers are often so ashamed of their stammering that they would go to great lengths to try to hide it.
- Guilt: often, stammerers feel that they could have achieved a lot more in life if only they spoke fluently.
- Frustration: stammerers often feel frustrated by their inability to communicate effectively with other people.
- Lowered self-esteem: stammering often induces a feeling of worthlessness.
 Can Stammering be Cured?
Nobody truly understands why people stammer, and so there isn’t really any definitive cure for it yet. However, there are many therapies that definitely make a positive difference.
Some approaches to heal stammerers are speech based – at their core is the premise that stammering is basically a disorder of speech. Recent research has found that some people who stammer may have difficulty coordinating the muscles for speech and need more time to speak. So one approach that helps many people simply encourages them to speak more slowly. Speech and language therapists train stammerers by helping them enunciate words better. They also sometimes use technical aids to mask other people's voices and teach the affected person ways of coping with their stammer.
Other therapists view stammering as a social disorder, believing that lowered feelings of self worth cause stammering. They believe that development of social skills, self awareness, assertiveness training and communication skills are more useful in treating stammering than speech therapy.
Both therapies help, but experts advocate using a holistic approach to stammering, than one that focuses on one particular aspect alone.
 Choosing the Right Therapy
Keep the following things in mind when choosing to undergo therapy for stammering.
- Stammering is too deep-rooted to be eliminated overnight. So make sure you give yourself adequate time (like three to six months) before you expect results. That is why one should never fall for claims by self-help gurus, that they can “cure” stammering in just a few days.
- The lack of fluency in speech is just the tip of the stammering iceberg that we can all see. The rest of the berg is made up of negative feelings, lowered self esteem and emotional dysfunctions. That is why it makes sense to opt for a holistic therapy, as opposed to one which focuses only on one aspect.
Yoga and meditation might really hold the key to solving the problem of stammering. With the greater sense of emotional and intellectual balance that these disciplines promote, the stammerer might find them of tremendous help in his attempts to develop better control over his speech
 Tips for Making a Stammerer Feel At Ease
Stammering in popular culture has, unfortunately, never been dealt with sensitively. People who stammer are often made the butt of jokes, comedy acts often feature people pretending to stammer, and so on. Since 2006, the British Stammering Association has been running a campaign against YouTube, the popular video sharing site, as it has a number of videos which feature people stammering, or pretending to stammer – all in the name of comedy.
We obviously need to deal with the issue with more empathy. Here are some tips on how to behave when the person you are talking to, stammers.
- Listen to what is said, not how it is said.
- Be patient and don't hurry the person talking.
- Try to maintain natural eye contact.
- Save that advise – saying, "breathe properly", "don't worry", "just relax" etc only makes the stammerer feel worse.
- Talking on the telephone is particularly difficult for many stammerers. Please ensure you display no impatience if the caller is taking longer than usual or if he is silent for a while.
- Remember that while stammerers may find it difficult to talk coherently, there’s nothing wrong with their brains. Don’t assume they are any less intelligent than you are.
- BBC Health
- Stammering is Not a Disease
- Indian Stammering Association website
For more on how British people who stammer can avail of their disability rights, visit [stammeringlaw.org.uk]
For more on Stammering Therapies, go to Stammering Therapies
For a psychoanalytic interpretation of stammering, go to Stammering: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation
To see an excellent video on stammering, go to Stammering is no joke