Speech may come easy to many but for some, it is a struggle to make a complete sentence without stammering.
Some find it awkward waiting for people who stammer to finish sentences in a conversation.
People who stammer sometimes get ridiculed, forcing them to abandon their dreams. Others however, have not allowed their speech disability to prevent them from accomplishing their purpose.
For Network Engineer, Festus Sackey, he had to abandon his dream of becoming a broadcaster due to his speech difficulties.
He had to cope with mockery from childhood. Stuttering through his words, he says, “It’s n-o-t b-e-e-n easy. It’s not f-u-n to be with people who can s-p-e-a-k n-o-r-m-a-l-l-y and you will have to s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e to speak. People you know and trust s-o much will try to s-a-y somethings to b-r-i-n-g you down.”
Festus doesn’t have a memorable childhood. Efforts from his parents to assist him manage his disorder like other kids were not successful. His teachers made matters worse as they pressurised him to speak like a “normal” child.
“Growing up, my parents will just be like, take your time and speak, breath in before you speak. But as much as I will do what they tell me to, I did not see any improvement. When you go to school, the teacher will expect you to be like every normal kid. So when they ask you a question and you delay in answering them, they turn to treat you like somebody who does not deserve to be in school,” he stammered in a conversation with Graphic Online.
Festus is not the only one who has had to go through a “troubling” childhood with speech.
Others such as Editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper, Ben Ephson, former editor of the Graphic Showbiz and now lecturer, Nanabanyin Dadson suffered the same fate growing up.
What is stammering?
Stammering is an involuntary way of talking which is characterised by a repetition of sounds, words, stretching out of sounds and blocks or long pauses.
It is a way of talking that is interjected with pauses, prolongation of sounds, syllables or breaks and is sometimes accompanied by body movements.
According to speech therapist, Nana Akua Owusu, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) done in comparison to those who stammer and those who do not, indicate that there is a lot of activity in the language brain area of people who stammer.
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What causes stammering?
There are suggestions that when a child is growing up and their ability to talk is not as strong as their thought process, there can be a mismatch of supply and demand.
For Nana Akua Owusu, stammering may occur when thought processes are a little bit kind of advanced beyond how one can express oneself.
“Sometimes when the demand is bigger than how much you can actually produce then you can have a mismatch of what you are capable of and what you can actually do.”
She also notes that attitudes or the kind of responses that children receive in the early stages of their stammering dictates how it will progress over the period.
How to detect stammering among children
Depending on how fast a child acquires speech then they can start stammering around age two. When children start talking, they can appear to stammer but not all behaviours mean the child is stammering.
“Sometimes excitement can cause a child to show signs of stammering. For children who do that, they do that on whole words such as mum, dad. Children who go on to stammer from that age, speech becomes a little bit more effortful, stretching out or repeating bits of what they are saying,” Nana Owusu explains.
“You might find that they are showing physical signs of doing something to help them get the words out. So if you see any of these signs then it doesn’t matter if your child is two or four years, it’s important you do not say it will go away. It is important to seek help immediately.”
People who stammer are not “stupid”
One of the myths surrounding stammering suggests that people who stammer are not smart. Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; American Vice President Joseph Biden; two-time Grammy award singer, Marc Anthony; American blues songwriter, BB King; golfer Tiger Woods are the few who have proven otherwise.
“If you think that people can come out with vocabulary that fits words that they stammer on and in that instant think of another word to replace it, now that is a clever person. A lot of them have quite a large vocabulary because they need it to be able to express themselves the way they want to express themselves.”
Is there a cure?
Scientists have not been able to discover a cure for people who stammer. Nana Owusu however suggest some therapies for children aged five and above.
“What I do is to help people work on their speech. I try to help people work on the way that they produce sounds so that it is easier.”
She also suggests that in helping people who stammer to overcome or manage their disability, it is important to work on their confidence level.
From a psychological perspective, she says it’s important to let people who stammer see what they are worth and to value who they are.
Scientists have not been able to figure out a cure for stammering and its root cause. However, some persons living with stammering have been able to manage it whilst others have overcome it.
Former broadcaster and aspiring Member of Parliament, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah; editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper, Ben Ephson and Nanabanyin Dadson, former editor of the Graphic Showbiz and now lecturer have defied the odds.
Nanabanyin had a dream of working in the media but he had to settle for newspaper where he didn’t have to speak much.
He explains he had to develop a strategy to help him manage his speech disorder.
“I think with me, managed is the right word because I have not overcome. I’ve just learnt how to live with it and that’s how come I’ve come this far with it… [But] I stammer like a fish…It happens when I am tired. It happens most when it is getting to the end of the day.”
“One needs to have a strategy. So somehow, I have noticed those types of words that are difficult to pronounce. So I find ways around them by looking at the synonyms.”
Nanabanyin, now in his 60s says he was not made for corrections because “I’ve tried everything…my wife understands. My kids understand. For instance, when I get home, and they know I am tired they won’t bother me with anything; because with the tiredness, nothing comes. Absolutely nothing comes.”
Mr Ben Ephson who has overcome his speech disorder says he had to battle with a temper because he was always at the centre of mockery amongst his friends. He has however overcome his speech disorder
“My stammering was really bad, the kind of stammering where I had to hit my thighs. I realised I was stammering when I was around 8 and when I started speaking with my colleagues they would be staring at me waiting for me to speak and in the primary school they would giggle.”
“Accompanied with the stammering was a quick temper so we had a Japanese intern who asked me if I wanted to stop stammering…she said she would teach me karate and I wondered how karate would help me stop stammering.”
“After six months, I realised that after the karate that I had done so far, if I wasn’t careful I could kill somebody. You know where to hit to immobilise somebody and I’m sure that fear made my temper come down a bit. At the least provocation I got into a fight so by putting away that quick tempered nature, the stammering was coming down,” he explained.
Stammering does not define a person
Some movie producers have portrayed stammering as a matter of comedy, a situation some people who stammer do not find amusing.
Nana Owusu explains that “people who stammer are not putting it on. It’s not fun for people who stammer. In fact it’s very stressful for people who stammer. If you ever made fun of somebody who stammers you should feel sorry for it. It is a kind of a speech disability and it’s a bit like finding somebody with one arm off and every time you see that person you make fun of them…and I don’t know where that started but it really has to stop. It’s only a fraction of a second that we have to wait for people who stammer to finish their sentences.”
According to The Stuttering Foundation, more than 70 million people worldwide stutter, this is about 1% of the population.
Stuttering is more common in boys than girls. It also tends to persist into adulthood more often in boys than in girls.