22nd October every year is dedicated to a condition that most of us know about but few realise how debilitating it can be. Stammering is still seen as a mere hindrance rather than a critical stumbling block. That is why stammering associations and other groups around the world organise events. They want to help people who stammer and to help those who don’t to understand the difficulties that stammerers experience.
What is Stammering and What Causes it?
Stammering, also known as stuttering, is a problem with speech flow. The stammerer will repeat words, struggle to pronounce syllables or whole words, stumble over sentences and, prolong sounds in words. They will also experience involuntary periods of silence – typically pausing as they struggle to “get the words out”. It’s generally understood that four times as many men as women stutter or stammer, with some 70 million people worldwide experiencing the problem. It can be a hindrance to communication and as a result, mean that certain opportunities are closed to stammerers.
There is no single cause of stammering and research is mixed. There is no cure for stammering, at least not one that will work for everybody. Some programmes have worked on some stammerers. Perhaps the most famous example is the schoolteacher who helped a stammering pupil to communicate by playing music while he spoke. It featured on a TV documentary called Educating Yorkshire and is regularly shared on social media several years after broadcast. However, this is not a universal solution and not always practical.
It is known to cause great emotional distress and many misconceptions about it still exist. Stammering representative organisations wish to challenge these misconceptions to ensure that stammerers get sufficient help.
Misconceptions About Stammering
The main misconception about stammering or stuttering is that it’s caused by stress, anxiety, or nervousness. In cases where the stammerer is displaying these traits, the act of stammering is a cause of these emotions, not the effect. Similarly, people do not stammer because they are socially awkward. Those who are socially awkward are often so because of self-consciousness about their stammering.
It’s common for non-stammerers to suggest that stammerers “take a deep breath” or “slow down” and that this will help. Generally, it doesn’t – it just makes the stammerer much more conscious of what they are doing. The best response is to act calm and patient and let them finish. Similarly, finishing their sentence for them is not always the best course of action.
Many people believe that stammering has a psychological basis – hence the comments about nervousness and shyness – but most research appears to point to a neurological cause, even though frustration at the inability to get words out can exacerbate the problem.
How You Can Help
Every year, organisations campaign and raise money for stammering awareness by selling green wristbands, the kind that became popular around a decade ago. They decided on sea green bands with white print because green is associated with freedom and white with peace. It’s about the desire to find support and develop a greater understanding by people who don’t stammer towards those who do. The first and most obvious thing you can do is to buy one of these green wristbands wherever you see them on sale.
Social media is a powerful tool. Tweeting or creating a Facebook status to spread the word is often given much less credit than it deserves in terms of raising awareness. Helping doesn’t always have to mean giving money to a cause. If you stammer, you can help people understand you better by sharing your personal experiences on these sites. Perhaps even create a YouTube video. All of these methods are recommended by stammering representative groups in the UK.