Those who suffer from speech difficulties often restrain themselves from speaking up and inwardly cringe in fear when expected to address an authority figure or a group of people. Studies conducted in India show that approximately 2% of the population stammers.
Stammering or stuttering is a condition that interferes with normal fluency and flow of speech. While both the terms are used, stammering is a British term and stuttering is a North American one.
“Acceptance is the key to overcoming your stammer; once you accept yourself you won’t care about people’s opinion,” says Vishal Gupta. He has been working in an IT firm for the past 10 years and is also part of The Indian Stammering Association (TISA), which defines the condition as ‘transfluency’ and not ‘dysfluency’.
TISA is a self-help group that is founded and driven by people who stammer. It empowers individuals and helps them accept who they are.
“People often ask me why I should advertise myself as a stammerer? But it is a process, how you open up so that your fear is decreased and feel relaxed while speaking”, he adds.
The medical reason behind stammering is still unknown, though there is a theory that it can be due to some underlying disease or hereditary genes.
“I was studying in Class 5 when my classmates started to imitate me and even say the words for me because I was taking time”, remembers Gupta. “Stammering is not the problem. The emotional baggage the individual has to go through is what affects deeply”, he continues.
“There are instances where you might know the right answer when the teacher asks a question but you don’t speak up due to the fear of stammering. That hurts”, he shares.
He tried therapy for three months, which helped him understand the technical factors like how to pronounce the words, and when to slow down. But there were some difficulties when he started talking to unknown people.
Being part of TISA has helped him meet and talk to people who go through the same emotions and made him see that he is not alone. At TISA, it is a whole learning process: First you come as a member and later you host the meeting.
For 19-year-old Nayana, who works part-time as a hairdresser, therapy sessions did not help much as she saw no difference or change in her. She wasn’t bullied by anyone but she felt embarrassed to talk in front of people. However, she’s glad that her family and friends always supported her and told her to speak slowly “so that I do not stammer.”
Arpit, a 21-year-old student studying in Delhi University, has something different to share. “I did not stammer from my childhood but have developed this habit of stammering by mimicking people with this problem and making fun of them.”
He has been undergoing therapy sessions to speak better. He suggests no one should make fun or bully people with stammering because “I feel depressed and bad about my stammering issue.”
“I faced many problems in my early life,” says 40-year-old Shailender Venaiyak, who works in Accounting. “School was tough as I was not able to communicate my message to the teacher even while asking to go to the washroom. I didn’t have the courage to answer the questions asked by the teacher in class due to the fear of stammering”.
Being part of TISA has helped him accept his stammering issue and gain confidence while talking. During the early stage of his life, he didn’t pick up landline calls as he was not confident that he would be able to speak properly or not.
Now, he informs people that he will speak slowly because of his stammer before he starts any conversations. “By doing this I have nothing to hide and can speak comfortably in front of anyone”, he adds.
Jasveen Kaur, audiologist and speech-language pathologist at Speech Therapy and ENT Centre, Tilak Nagar, says, “Stammerers usually have low self-confidence due to frequent failures. However, they are in no way intellectually inferior to non-stutterers.”
Speaking on the number of cases she encounters at the centre, she says, “Around 60-70% cases are of stuttering, remaining are of misarticulation and very few of delayed speech.”
Kaur emphasizes that willpower matters a lot. “Often, people only have weekends to attend the therapy, so we have to devise the strategy accordingly”, she states.
According to Kaur, one of the most important aspects of the therapy is group discussion and public speaking, which is held every Saturday. One-to-one speaking, in most cases, is not a problem. It’s when one stands at a podium that fear strikes – commonly called stage fright.
Such frequent exposure boosts their confidence. Elated, Kaur continues, “Some of our clients are now in politics. There were times when they couldn’t speak their name, and they are now addressing 500-1,000 people at a time, which is a great achievement.”
Just as a physician recommends to complete the antibiotic course even if the symptoms have improved, Kaur says, doing the exercise and focussing on the counselling part is the key to achieving the best result.
“I found a lot of issues while searching for my first job. People who stammer have much more difficulties in finding a job than people who have good communication skills”, says Venaiyak.
He took therapy sessions and there were changes but it wasn’t permanent as there is no complete cure for stammering.
He further says, “One can’t see any change within a day, it takes time of 6-7 months and even a year in some cases but it definitely improves stammering. Attending meetups with like-minded people is also something that he advises people who go through the same issue.
When asked about any advice to people who go through the condition, Gupta says, “First of all, you are not alone; second, don’t blame yourself.”
He continues, “The moment you tell the people that you stammer before a call or a presentation, you can feel the magic. You include this whenever it’s needed.” Looking back at his growth, Gupta says accepting him has helped him overcome a lot.Though he stammers at times, he isn’t ashamed or afraid of it. He has learned to embrace the condition and grow along it.
TISA is organising a National Conference on 4-6 November at Zorba The Buddha, a spiritual centre in Ghitorni, where 100 stammerers will participate in various workshops and activities.