STUTTERING IN THE 21ST CENTURY
*Caption: Tow people having a conversation
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
In the year 1998, the 22nd of October was selected to be observed as International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD). This day was chosen as one aimed at educating and raising an awareness of the number of people around the world who have a speech disorder of stuttering.
Journalismiziko consulted with Natasha Pillay, a Speech-Language Pathologist who shed some light on what exactly is stuttering.
“Stuttering also known as stammering or a dysfluency is usually a hereditary condition (occurs in the family) and can commence from early childhood. Other causes of stuttering could be attributed to environmental stress or trauma during childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Neurological difficulties such as head injuries and strokes which causes a neurogenic stutter. Other forms of stuttering occur in bilingual children/ adults whereby two or more languages are used simultaneously thus causing a person to become dysfluent when they cannot express themselves clearly,” said Pillay.
Although in many societies the concept of stuttering is one which many are not quite knowledgeable about, there are numerous characteristics by which it could be identified.
“There are different types of stuttering characteristics/ behaviours which range from mild to severe. For example: Prolongations: Prolonging a word before saying it e.g. “I aaaaam sick” Repetitions: Repeating the sounds e.g. “sssschool” or repeating the word e.g. “I gogo to DUT” or phrase repetitions e.g. “May I- May I have that?” Interjections/ Fillers: Adding in words to assist in expressing oneself e.g. “ I need umum go” Blocks: The feeling of words “getting stuck” where its takes a few seconds to say the word,” elaborated Pillay.
There are various challenges which are faced by someone who stutters. Pillay highlighted some of the biggest challenges faced by someone who stutters.
“In children, difficulties include poor or reduced communication and interaction with peers, teachers and family. Some children become frustrated when they cannot communicate which in turn aggravates the stuttering. In older children/ adolescents there is more peer pressure as well as bullying/ teasing present from others. These older children/ adolescents become withdrawn and have difficulty forming friendships, presenting speeches in class as well as answering questions and reading aloud. In adults, the same difficulties are experienced however there is a greater impact on forming personal/intimate relationships as well as attending job interviews, speaking over the telephone and talking to strangers in general. All these difficulties impact on the quality of life and can even have psychological trauma if not treated early.”
There is no cure for stuttering or quick fixes. It is a life-long difficulty, however, it does improve over time, whereby an individual can become 100% fluent. The improvement with stuttering is dependent on the type of stuttering an individual presents as well as the severity. Milder conditions improve quicker, however, more severe conditions will take more time. A speech-Language Pathologist is the only qualified health professional that can diagnose and treat stuttering disorders. With speech therapy, a person can improve their fluency with regular treatment. The key to improvement is early detection.
For Sabelo Mkhize, stuttering is nothing new to him.
“For me, stuttering is something I inherited from a member of my family. So I have been speaking with pauses in my speech since I was a kid,” said Mkhize.
The stuttering young man says it was not always easy coping with stuttering as he used to get very annoyed and get violent when people cut him off while speaking. He often felt as though he was being treated as a jester by his peers.
Although he struggled to cope with the stutters in his speech, he grew to accept it and embrace it as being a unique part of him.
“I like them now. Although I believe that there is something missing in my mouth and that is the reason why I cut off, but I have learnt to live with this so it is more of a gift now to me than it is a curse,” added Mkhize.
For someone who is financially struggling and cannot afford speech therapy, Pillay recommended potential cost-effective ways for one to overcome their stuttering.
“Speech Therapy can be accessed at government hospitals, private practices and university clinics. It is relatively affordable and covered by medical aids. It is important to seek professional help/ assistance rather than searching for quick fixes online. There are a lot of scams online such as devices that improve stuttering or “pills” that improve stuttering however this is false! Speak to a professional who can offer assistance/ advice,” she concluded.