Dr. Jayanthi speaks about overcoming the stigma of stammering
There are more than 45 million people in the world today who stammer and approximately ten million live in India. Ms. Jayanthi, Speech and Hearing specialist throws light on this problem affecting millions of people today.
People understand the problem of blindness and deafness. However the psychological damage of not being able to speak properly is highly underestimated. Not being able to express yourself is a highly stifling feeling and largely focused on in the movie King’s Speech. The King’s speech is based on the true story of King George VI, who was known to have a stammer. The critically acclaimed film has helped bring the speech defect into the spotlight. Ms. Jayanthi who is a Speech and Hearing specialist from the University of Mumbai believes that stammering is not a disease and has its roots in a psychological problem.
Ms. Jayanthi has worked in different hospitals during the 15 year span of practice. She started her practice in Manipal Hospital and later moved on to be part of rehabilitative team at Vydehi Medical College in Bangalore. She has also been associated with Bethany and Army school at Bangalore. She takes lectures in Linguistics at both graduate and post graduate level at Dr. Chandrasekhar and Samvad Institute of Speech and Hearing. Ms. Jayanthi has also done a special course on assessment of infants and young children with special needs and related topics from California State University, Los Angeles, USA. Ms. Jayanthi elaborates more on this problem that's affecting millions of people today.
What is stammering, how does it affect people?
Stammering is basically an interrupted way of speaking, distorted speech which is characterized principally by blocks or spasms interrupting the rhythm. It is an in-coordination among respiratory, vocal cords and articulatory mechanisms and it affects both children and adults alike. There are more than 45 million people in the world today who stammer and approximately ten million live in India. Also stammering starts between the age of two and five. In children we usually call it normal disfluency or nonfluency, during the language learning years most children go through a period of normal disfluency. This is characterized by hesitations in the flow of speech and word repetitions. However if left untreated, it becomes severe around the age of 10 to 18 years and then begins to stabilize or fade away as the person grows older.
Do you think it happens mostly because of the psychological problem?
There could be two main causes to this problem; it could either be a neurological problem or a psychological one. It is often a product of social fears like shame and embarrassment to speak in front of others. It can also happen if there is lack of co-ordination between thinking and speaking and the thought process is very fast. Sometimes change in the environment or disturbances and quarrel in the family can also trigger the problem. But it needs to be treated in the early stages because with time, it can aggravate and create low self-esteem issues.
What if it isn’t detected earlier, is it still curable?
There is a common belief that stammering means severe speech problem but the extent of problem varies from person to person, even varies from situation to situation. It can be treated based on the severity of the problem; firstly we identify and teach the dynamics of speaking to the person. And to ensure success in the long term, we also focus on understanding the psychology of stammering and explain people the benefits of self-acceptance. Though it may not be completely curable, stammering can definitely be overcome with different therapies.
What are the social implications faced by people because of this problem?
Since there is not much awareness, people often don’t get help at an earlier stage and that leaves a big dent on their whole outlook towards life. Getting a job and progressing up the career ladder is one of the main problems for people who stammer. Attending an interview can be harder for people who have a speech impediment. Also medical and engineering students have to give viva voce for their exams and most of them think that if they stammer then there is no way that they will be successful in obtaining the job or passing the exam.
What are the different therapies used to treat stuttering/stammering?
Children who stammer tend to have low self esteem issues. They often compensate for this by withdrawing or becoming aggressive. But the parents need to understand that underlying all this is the tremendous fear children have of appearing foolish in front of others. So we usually advice parents on how to behave with the child and ask them to engage the kids in activities that will help them overcome their fear. For adults there are speech therapy sessions and psychological counselling sessions which they need to attend at least twice or thrice a week.
So can stammering be completely overcome?
There have been cases, where people have completely come out of it but it has reoccurred after sometime. So there are 70 – 80 percent chances that people will overcome this problem with speech therapy sessions but it is a long process and can take time. Once the person learns to overcome his nervous condition, or remove its cause, it becomes easy to overcome stammering from there on.
Do's and Dont's for parents
1) Give your child full attention when they are stammering.
2) Don't make any comments just wait for them to say what they want to
3) Don't look away when the child is speaking
4) Take the focus off speech when there is great difficulty.
5) If they are having difficulty in explaining something tell them to take a deep breath and relax.
6) Don't immediately react when angry, this will increase their anxiety and make the stammer worse.
Ms. Jayanthi is a speech pathologist and can be reached at Rajan speech and hearing centre or contact: 22290737, 65467791