Recently, thanks to my manager, I has the opportunity to share my thoughts on stammering. Please find below.
- First of all, congratulations. You have overcome the social stigma associated with stammering through your perseverance. Tell us more about your journey.
Thanks a lot Sangeetha for recognizing stammering and providing this opportunity. I hope this helps in creating more awareness and less stigma in society. The current perception (which I say very happily, is changing) makes a person who stutter (PWS) feel like criminal. It’s as if he has done some blunder which is unforgivable by any law. Parents also, in their love and worries, tend to add more guilt to the person. This is not a healthy way of life. Everyone stutters when they are learning to speak but many of them outgrow it. The few unlucky ones who can’t, are shamed and laughed at for life. This is what life is for each stammer.
- Which period was the most challenging – school or later?
The most challenging period would be adolescence. From the age of thirteen to twenty. People already are trying to figure out where they belong. Stutter adds one more challenge to it as the PWS mostly think themselves as unique in the group. Many PWS haven’t even met another PWS. This makes them feel like a freak who can’t speak “normally”. Most of the suicide cases in stutters are also from this age.
- Tell us more about The Indian Stammering Association (TISA).
TISA stands for The Indian Stammering association. It was founded in 2008 by the efforts of Dr. Satyendra Srivastava along with few other founders. The objective of the association is not to find a cure of stammering but make stammering to be viewed as simple diversity. It’s like some people can’t hear properly, some can’t see and some can’t speak. That’s all. When stammering will be looked as a diversity, the stigma related to this will also reduce and unnecessary pressure which we had to bear will melt. Adding to this, we also help every stutter to live a healthy and happier life. Rather than being a fluent speaker, we focus people to have meaningful communication. Fluency will or will not come but that should not block your way of a good conversation or relationships.
Here, one thing to mention is that TISA is not against any therapy or cure. If somebody gets better with therapy, we wish him all the best. All the research should be done to find the cause of stuttering but till then, everyone is entitled to live a happy life. Personally, I haven’t found therapy very helpful as they try to modify the speech or use punishment as a motivator for speaking without block. In TISA, we try to propagate the idea that even when you stammer, the world doesn’t come to an end. It’s just a diversity and that is what makes world beautiful. People buy a fish pond and put a diverse variety of fish but at the same time, expect each human to behave in same way. When we accept diversity in nature, why not in human beings as well. Think of a world where everyone is 6 feet, fair complex, speaking in same way, slim. How boring that world would be. We need diversity to keep the world full of surprises.
- What were some of the takeaways from the recently-held national conference by TISA?
TISA held its 8th national conference on 28 Sept 2018 in Bangalore. I being associated with it for last 5 years was part of volunteers. I was in the welcoming team. Few takeaways which I would like to mention here. There were more and if I start, the page will get over so I will tell few:
- Most important takeaway is the feeling that such a national level event was done by the volunteers who all were stutters. From anchoring to arranging food for all to managing over 100 participants: all done by stutters. This makes us understand that fluency plays a very little role in life. What we have to say is way more important than how we say it.
- Seeing PWS running their business to being a storyteller, it negates all the things said by people that stammer can’t do this and that. When committed, anyone can do wonders.
- During stranger talk event, we realized that many people are not as we have created them in our minds. Stammers tend to believe that all people will mock us or make fun of us. This event made us realize that everyone has their own set of problems and have very little time to mock others. Still there are people who do that but whole pack is not bad due to a sheep.
- Conference also includes session of physical aspects of life live living healthy and exercises. We had yoga and Zumba session which made us understand the importance of health and why one should not take it for granted.
- As a person who has gone through the problems, what would you advise parents of children who have stammering?
As I told, parents, due to the worries of kid’s future, unknowingly, tend to make them feel like they committed a mistake if they fumbled on a word or stuttered. Only advice I will give to the parents whose kids stutter, or have any diversity for that matter, is to make them feel normal. Society is anyways giving them a hard time. Let’s make the kids be himself at least at home. If your kids stutter, listen to him patiently. That’s all. Asking him to “speak slowly” or “take a deep breath” instill a feeling that he made a mistake. Thus in the long run, he will try to be silent rather than speak. Listening patiently also creates a trust that he is accepted here as he is. And I think nothing is more beautiful than being accepted for who you are.
- What are the options for stammerers to improve their speech? Are there exercises that are readily available?
Stammering is not just about speech. There are two sides of it. One being speech and another, the feeling of guilt and shame. Addressing only one aspect will not help any PWS to live healthy and joyful life.
- To improve speech, which usually any PWS looks for, one should speak more and more. Actually It goes for anyone whether he stutters or not. Taking the central stage as often as one can is the most pragmatic solution for stammering. It may take some time to get that much courage. For that, TISA conducts SHG ie. Self-help group. It’s conducted in many metro cities in India. Any PWS can start from an SHG and as he gets courage, he can take courses like toastmasters and improve further. There are few techniques which one will use but those will help for some time. For a long term solution, speaking more and more is the sure way to go.
- Now comes the base of the iceberg. Speech is just the tip. All the emotions which PWS has cluttered over the years is what hurts him most. The way to get rid of those feelings is to accept stammering as it is. Once I stopped fighting and said, “yes, I stammer and its okay.” The path to being healed began. This is not a onetime step that you accepted and now it’s over. These emotions were built over a long period and you should hit again and again until all the clutter is removed. One sure way to do this is to do voluntary stuttering. This may seem strange that PWS wants to get rid of stammering and I am asking to stammer. Know this, every time you stutter voluntarily with a smile and tell your mind that it’s okay, you break a pattern and take a step towards liberation.
- How has Infosys helped you?
Infosys gave me a chance when I thought that I had no chance. It has come as a life saver.
The teams which I met at Infosys was simply outstanding. I don’t think I have faced a single discrimination related to my speech and this has encouraged me to participate fully in team activities and work. The people, be it in the gym or in the team, all treated stammering as necessary. Neither any special treatment nor any discrimination. This is what we need.
- What are your interests? Is there any interest that you had to put on hold because of your stammering?
I am very fond of in trying and understanding new things. I have tried my hands on acting and as a sound guy in play. I have learnt yoga, meditation. I am currently doing a course on nutrition and exercises. There are more but let’s focus on what important.
It was not always like this. At one point of time, I used to think that once I cure my stammering, I will do this and that. I thought only problem in my life was stammering. The day I cure this, I will become good at everything. When I got introduced to TISA and stopped focusing on stammering, I understood that there are so many drawbacks in me. I was overweight, very bad communicator, lacked leadership skills, was scared to talk to even a vendor. That’s when the smoke cleared and dots appeared. Now I don’t hold myself for anything. I try and if I fail, it’s okay.
- Movies often depict stammerers as comic elements. Do you see the situation changing?
I remembered a joke from movie Golmaal 3. “One character ask for phone number and other guy tells with a stutter. He says: na na na 9 ae ae ae 8 ta at”. Other guy jokes, “That’s all, 10 digits are over.” When the movie came, this joke hurt like hell but now I am okay with this. What I am trying to say is completely removing and opposing is not a part of the solution. We can always use it in a light way but at the same time, other side also needs to be portrayed. Where stutters has achieved same as their non-stutter counter parts. Where stutters is not the main focus of the scene. Particularly I like Stephen king novels because the protagonist usually has some diversity but it’s portrayed just as another part of this personality. That’s all. I see the situation changing in Bollywood also but very little. With movies like Hichki, I think we are making progress towards a more accepting society.
- A quote / line / philosophy that keeps you going.
I usually don’t believe in quotes and lines but I will share one thought that has helped me in past:
“You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.