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Removing the stigma from stammering

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Everywhere, the stigma attached to stammering creates and reinforces the sense of embarrassment, shame, constant stress and frustration.
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Written By Nii K Bentsi-Enchill - October 22 marked International Stuttering Awareness Day.


This year’s theme was “Growth through Speaking.

" The idea is to encourage people who stammer (same as stutter) to gain confidence in speaking, so we can reach our full potential.

We have to accept and become more comfortable with our stammer, gradually stop being afraid to speak, then speak up more.

But we can’t do it alone when people are more inclined to laugh at us than show support.

So, spare a thought those of us who stammer; we are just like you.

And spare a thought on other days for anybody with some form of impairment, of speech or body or of mind.

Everybody has got something, whether visible or not.

People are differently able and sooner or later, we all need empathy and support.

Society can only gain from removing stigma and nurturing all the latent potential of all citizens.

Interested readers may contact the non-profit Ghana Stammering Association (GSA; tel.: 0246 288 770).

It was founded in 2013 and is gradually gaining strength, spreading awareness and developing a professional and informal support system for people in Ghana who stammer.

Stuttering affects more than one per cent of the global population and one female to four males.

It can start as early as 30 months old or some years later. It can stop in early childhood, or continue to the grave.

Science is yet to settle on a single cause (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuttering), but the effects are clear.

Stuttering means getting stuck on and quickly repeating the beginning or middle of words, syllables and sentences.

It means stretching out some sounds or adding others to break a blockage.

It means unusual pauses, hesitations and rhythms.

It means avoiding certain words, even your own name.

It means avoiding saying anything at all.

It means tension, anxiety and shyness.

It means fear of being the object of curiosity, pity, ridicule and exclusion.

It can cause low self-esteem, depression and mental health problems.

Stammering limits participation, narrows choices, undermines confidence, imprisons initiative and imposes a suffering silence.

Impact

Earlier this year, a British organisation called Stamma asked its members how stammering had affected their life:

Nearly 90 per cent had been teased or bullied; over half said their stammer affected their choice of career and 15 per cent reported feeling suicidal because of their stammer.

We will eventually have disaggregated data for Ghana.

Everywhere, the stigma attached to stammering creates and reinforces the sense of embarrassment, shame, constant stress and frustration.

Of course, the impact is not uniform.

Stuttering is a spectrum with many variations.

At one end are those who use physical force to get any words out, sometimes twisting their face and body.

In the middle are those who make quick repetitions woven into generally fluent speech.

At the other end are those who manage their stammer so well that only trained ears can detect it.

They are usually seen as success stories, people who have conquered their stammer.

They range from the modest to the bombastic, including sports and entertainment stars, doctors, lawyers, business people, and ministers of state and religion.

Treatment

Stuttering has been treated with different forms of therapy, variously featuring relaxation; control of breathing, articulation and speed; and even hypnosis. Two or three drugs have proven beneficial but with harmful side-effects.

Whatever the type of therapy and treatment, little is available in Ghana.

For stammering alone (which is only one of a number of speech and language difficulties), we currently have about 20 speech therapists in the whole country and a handful of speech and language therapy units, mostly in Accra (see below).

There is now a growing consensus that for successful management and control of stammering, there needs to be a foundation of acceptance and support to build on.

People who stammer can freely pursue perfectly fluent speech, and be helped to do so.

But we first need to accept that we stammer and build our confidence and ability to speak, asserting our right to speak with a stammer.

People around us can remove the stigma applied to stammering by showing respect, listening with patience and encouraging us to speak.

A picture on the Ghana Stammering Association site shows an interesting slogan: “

Stammer with pride”. Many of us won’t get to that stage and we don’t have to.

All we need is to become more relaxed, to grow through speaking in a supportive social environment.

People should watch out for children who stammer and catch them early so that the ordinary ones will flourish normally and the great ones will rise.

We need to do better for people with speech and other impediments. Society has to make reasonable adjustments to enable and empower, from home to classroom to workplace.

Ghana will gain from the full participation of all citizens.

Services and support for people with communication difficulties can be had at the Ghana Stammering Association via E-mail: ghstammeringassociation@gmail.com or the mobile number 0246 288 770.

The writer is with the Ghana Stammering Association

 

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