Did you know that over 500,000 adults in the UK have a stammer? This invisible neurological condition, like dyslexia, can literally cripple the confidence of grown men and women everyday, making them feel fearful, embarrassed, ashamed and even stupid at any and all speaking opportunities.
This coming Friday (22nd October 2021) is International Stammering Awareness Day 2021 and because chances are you know someone who has a stammer or a stutter (both the same conditions by the way) it’s therefore important that you understand what it means to struggle with talking and how you can help.
Having been on a life changing speech therapy course I have been fortunate enough to have been taught how control my speech using my breath but the stammer is still there.
What it can feel like to stammer:
Yesterday I went to ask a teacher, at my sons’ school, a question. It would been just a quick question which could have led to a brief discussion on dyslexia, my specialist subject. However I started saying ‘Wh………..,’ and the stammer got hold and felt like it was standing behind me with its hand over my mouth tightly, not letting me go and not letting me speak. I stood there, mouth contorted, my efforts to speak causing odd repeated sounds to come from my open mouth, people shuffling past getting their children into school, voices and busyness all around, while my stammer gripped me. I tried to maintain eye contact whilst I felt every possible sense of professionalism leaving me standing there mouth open not even able to do a simple thing of asking a question.
My mind raced, between what she would be thinking of me at that moment, to deciding if I could change the word, the question or if I could just simply stop altogether and disappear. I knew in the time it took me to say that one, tiny word, I could have asked the question, she could have answered and I could have been on my way.
The stammer lessened it’s grip momentarily and the rest of the word came out, now so detached from it’s beginning that I wasn’t sure it would still make sense, ‘….ich,’. Closely followed by the rest of the question in a much simplified form than I intended for fear of being gagged again. She answered and aware that I had already taken up too much of her time, I smiled and left feeling extremely embarrassed and stupid.
This is just one of hundreds of experiences I have had living with a stammer. Its always there, the fear, the embarrassment, the shame, it’s exhausting!
“…It’s why I’m not talking…”
My friend says she, ‘hardly ever notices my stammer,’. It’s kind of her to say so and I appreciate the gesture but it’s meaningless I’m afraid. I notice it. I notice it because it’s in me every moment of every day even when I’m not talking. Especially when I’m not talking. Because it’s why I’m not talking. It’s why I just nodded and smiled that time instead of saying the witty comeback that is in my head. It’s why I pretended to have forgotten that word. Why I hurry away from the school run at times. It’s why I’ve had to build a thesaurus in my head so I can quickly sort alternative terms to use so that the stammer doesn’t grab me and gag me quite so hard.
Since first going on the Starfish Course I have discovered the exhilarating freedom of being able to say what I want, when I want just by controlling my breath. With the ongoing support from hundreds of people who have all experienced the same difficulties I have just described above, I know that I can have control of my speech, my confidence and my life but it takes ongoing focus whenever I talk.
What to do when you see someone struggling to speak:
- Do let them know you are listening. Maintain natural eye contact and really focus on what they are saying.
- Don’t offer advice – telling people to slow down or breathe can make the person feel even more self-conscious.
- Do give them space to speak. Definitely don’t interrupt or speak over them. Finishing their sentences can also be very unhelpful.
Stammering is not something to be pitied or corrected. It’s not something to laugh about. So, take your conversation slow and don’t be afraid to ask someone how you can make their life easier for them.