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Stammering: Lost for words

Do you habitually conceal the fact that you stammer? Struggle with inferior feelings about your stammer?

Internally rehearse speech or altogether hold your peace? Then you are not alone. Everyone who stammers has a story to tell. A stammer, also known as a stutter, is a speech disorder where one’s speech is filled with involuntary pauses, stops and repetitions.

Joseph Nsubuga, the founder of Easy Speak Association, has stammered since he was a child. Earlier, it caused him overwhelming frustration since he could not say what he wanted to with the ease his peers did. As a result, he was teased both at home and school and given putrid labels.

“When the teacher picked on me to answer a question in class, I would take about three minutes to answer, struggling with some words and fellow pupils laughed hard. In fact, some teachers weren’t patient with me and would switch to a more fluent pupil,” Nsubuga, who attended Kabunza primary school in Matugga recalls.

Additionally, he was not allowed to speak to the shopkeeper whenever he went out with his siblings to buy something. Rather, he was the one to carry the shopping basket. He says the worst part is the way the fluent public reacts to people who stammer.

“We are judged and some people think that the way one speaks reflects the way he or she thinks. Thus people who stammer are sometimes regarded as slow thinkers, which is not true,” says Nsubuga, who comes from a family with other members who stutter.

Although he knows that it is a constant battle for him to maintain fluent speech, Nsubuga has been involved in situations that allow him to express himself more often. For example, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Marketing at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) which mandated him to interact with more people as a sales executive.

Luckily, in 2005 he was sponsored to travel to Cameroon to attend the first-ever African conference on stammering. It is here that Nsubuga was educated in tangible tactics such as controlling one’s breathing pace, observing an upright sitting posture and self-advertising in order to deal with stammering.

“When I came back, I founded Easy Speak Association to pass on the skills I had acquired to people who were struggling with stammering,” he says.

Furthermore, Nsubuga received intensive clinical stammering therapy from City Lit College, UK in 2008, which has greatly helped him deal with his stammer to the extent that it might now pass unnoticed.

Like Nsubuga, famous people that rose above their stammering to change the world include Aesop, a Greek storyteller; England’s King George VI; American president Theodore Roosevelt; British comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean); and scientist Isaac Newton, among others.

WHAT HAPPENS?

Nsubuga says stammering comes naturally and its real causes still elude scientists. However, many attribute it to genetic causes where a person with a stammer is likely to have a close family member who does so.

Other identifiable risk factors include sex of a person where males are four times more likely to stammer compared to females, according to the UK National Library of Medicine, and age where we have more people stuttering below the age of five than above. The good news, however, is that majority of children stop stammering as they get older.

According to a report on speech and language therapy by Makerere University’s School of Public Health, stammering is characterized by prolongations, stoppages, repetitions and struggle. These are often accompanied by physical movements often seen among people who stammer.

“For example in saying the word dad, someone may have repetitions and say da..da..daaa..dad, prolongations such as saying mmmmmmm…mum,” the report partly reads.

Other common signs and symptoms associated with stammering include trembling tips when trying to speak, avoidance of eye contact, hesitation before certain words have to be mentioned and one may appear out of breath when trying to speak. Also, one may exhibit rapid blinking and interjections such as ‘uhm’ before attempting to utter certain words.

GETTING CONCERNED   

Nsubuga says parents should consider seeking professional help when their child is often bullied or teased in school because of the disorder, so much that the child hates school.

“It should also be of concern when one gets older than 18 and he or she is going to enter the job market, because many job descriptions call for someone who is fluent in speech. Even when one wants to get a spouse, stammering becomes a concern because many who stammer are shunned,” he notes.

Stammering also becomes of concern when it causes emotional difficulties such as fear of places or situations when it persists after the child is five years, or when it is accompanied with tightness of the facial and upper body muscles.

MANAGING SPEECH PROBLEMS

Nsubuga says that those fluent in speech should encourage those who stammer to speak more often, not interrupt them when they are speaking and listen to them attentively as they speak to avoid repetition.

It is also important that people who stammer are not asked to practice certain words or sounds as this only makes one uncomfortable about his or her speech.

“People who stammer should be encouraged to come out of their shells because stammering is neither a disability nor a curse. One can be heard and understood. The fluent public should respect and not belittle those who stammer,” Nsubuga cautions.

ninsiima@observer.ug

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