“People who stutter have the unique opportunity to teach the world to listen.”
People attending the National Conference 2021 had a bit of a different Sunday. Most people switch off their alarms on Sunday but the proud stammerers all around the nation set their alarm for 8 a.m. No one wanted to miss even a bit of the conference. And just as we thought the conference couldn’t get any better, the 3rd day proved us all wrong. From motivating sessions to eye opening sessions to sessions touching our inner souls, it had a mix of everything.
3rd day of NC 2021 started with the open mic. Energetic people of India, with a cup of coffee in their hand, shared their thoughts and talents on the safe platform of NC. They shared their experience and in doing so they not only gained confidence but hope and knowledge too by listening to others. From Nikhil’s singing to Sarthak’s poetry what was there to not like! Arpit shared his journey of stammering and proudly stated that it is Okay to stammer and in doing so you present yourself positively Infront of people. Tapan said life is too short to get affected by stammering and advised everyone to actively participate in TISA and talk more and more to people.
After the open mic came the session on Diversity and Inclusion from the point of view of a queer stammerer Rituparna Borha(she/her). She is the Co-Founder/Co-director of ‘Nazariya’, a queer feminist resource group in Delhi which helps in making queer life visible. Rituparna has published various articles in national and international journals. She is an experienced counselor, curriculum developer as well as a contributor of adolescence education training material published by NCERT. The session taught us things that were more important than “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. The session gave insights about gender and sexuality which is not talked about openly in the society. Wait doesn’t that remind you of something else. Exactly! Stammering. She made us realize that being different isn’t the same as being wrong. She talked about different genders of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. She gave a beautiful example of Harnam Kaur(she/her) who has PCOS but has accepted herself as she is and wears her uniqueness as a crown. Ritu spotlights the problems faced by the LGBTQIA+ community and highlights how it is same for the PWS. In doing so she was conveying the message that we are not alone in this and if the marginalized communities come together, they won’t be marginalized anymore, and we can defeat the social evils and taboos existing in our society. At the end she urged us all to educate ourselves and make people aware.
After the eye-opening session by rituparna(she/her) came my personal favorite session. The session featuring wholesome stammering families. While most of the Indian families were busy preparing lunch, some families sat together to discuss stammering in their home. Hosted by Harish, this session had Raja from Telangana, Melwin and his daughter Sandrushka from Goa, Akanksha and her parents Seema and Ajay Mathur from Gaziabad, Rajesh from Goa and Santosh and his daughter Swara from Mumbai as panelists. Some key takeaways from the panel discussion were:
- Make sure your child has a healthy environment while growing, be it in school or at home. Take efforts to get yourself aware of the situation as well as make your child’s school aware of the problem. Don’t ignore the situation completely but at the same time do not make your child aware that he has some “problem”. Normalize stammering.
- Encourage your child to do anything in life. Make them believe that their stammering won’t stop them from achieving anything in life. Teach them the value of hard work
- As a stammerer never feel guilty that your child stammers too. Embrace their imperfections. At the end of the day, you will always be your child’s hero.
- Always support your child and create a safe environment where they themselves come to you and talk about their problems, not just stammering related.
- Don’t make the child talk slowly. Instead, you talk slowly to them, so he/she copies you. Set an example.
- Grow them as a child, not a child with a disability.
Stammering in families is quite common. By mirroring people in the family others can get it too. But with right mindset it can be dealt with. Most of the factors pertaining to stammering are psychological and social. Genetically it is only 1-2%. So, lets break the stigma that it’s a genetical disease.
“I LaLaLLaLove You”, “Will you MaMaMarry me”, “NO!” These are some of the phrases that come to mind of a PWS when they think of their love life. Most of the beautiful things never happen because we assume things beforehand. To break those beliefs, we had a beautiful couple among us on the Sunday afternoon. Naman and Rashmi were college friends for 3 years and then dated in the 4th year for seven long years and are now happily married for six beautiful years. By the way did I tell you, the hero in this story stutters. Yes guys, Naman stutters and Rashmi like any other person did not care since the beginning. Stammering never came between them. Naman felt comfortable around Rashmi since the start and never hesitated to share his emotions about stammering with her. This made him realize that she is the one.
“If you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soulmate’ you’ll feel calm. No anxiety. No agitation.”
Rashmi used to go with Naman to therapies and SHG sessions and even now helps him practice his office presentations at home. Some serious couple goals I must say. At the end Rashmi and Naman both said that frequency should match between the couple, and both should be comfortable around each other and everything else automatically falls in place. Inspired by Naman and Rashmi I am sure some of the young bloods must have gotten the courage to call/message their crushes that day.
As the sun was at its peak another panel discussion was all set to take place in the conference. This discussion highlighted a minority inside of a minority that is women stutterers. The panel was being hosted by Bhavana and featured Ashima, Ruchi, Archana, Shreya, Soma and Deepika. Some key points from the discussion were:
- Start focusing on presenting yourself and you’ll see yourself comfortable with stammering.
- Graph of stammering goes up and down. Never be overconfident during the ‘Up’ and never get heartbroken during the ‘Down’.
- Stammering doesn’t matter in your career. Its about getting the work done.
- Never hesitate to talk to your parents. They will always help you, no matter what.
Some positive things that came out of stuttering for the IWWS:
- Got to know about TISA and made friends all around the nation.
- Taught patience.
- Focusing on content and not judging the book by its cover.
- Taught how to be kind to people.
After some of these motivating panel discussions came an inspiring session by another IWWS Rajgauri, a passionate and professional artist whose paintings are a treat to the naked eye. Rajgauri effortlessly presented herself using the bouncing technique and portrayed her paintings in front of us. For Rajgauri her artistic skills played an important role in her journey of stammering. Art gave her confidence and helped her forget about her problems, reduced her stress, boosted her self-esteem and gave her a sense of purpose. She advised the PWS to have a hobby and accept their stammering but also simultaneously keep working on themselves to be a better human in their own eyes.
A continuous fear inside the head of a PWS is if they would be able to get a job. Will they be able to crack the interview. To break those norms, we had another lively panel discussion hosted by Keerthan Bhat, a software engineer at Samsung and a part of Bangalore SHG. On the panel were Aditya Aggarwal, a Software engineer at Google and Rahul Hirani, a software engineer at Walmart. Some key takeaways from the discussion were:
- Talking about clearing interviews, the bubble was burst that an interviewee considers your stammering. Your skills are something that matters and if you’re able to communicate your ideas to them even with a stammer, it doesn’t matter. You just need to be creative during the interviews and find ways out of the box to deliver your ideas in the most effective way possible.
- Climbing the management ladder isn’t a farfetched idea for PWS as well. It’s about getting the work Our relationship with people and what we bring to the table is all that it matters, rest is all in our head. Stammering doesn’t matter to people why should it matter to us!?
“Meritocracy is the only thing that matters.”
At the end Aditya and Rahul gave some advice to survive in the technical profession:
- Focus on building your resume and highlight the projects you have done and what all new it is bringing to the table
- Do not stress about your career too much. Everything turns out fine at the end.
- Occasionally stop and enjoy with your friends and family.
What’s one job that a stammerer can’t do? President? Joe Biden, current president of US was a stammerer. Actor? Hritik Roshan was a stammerer. Salesman? To prove that wrong we had among us Akshay Rawal, a good and honest salesman. Akshay stammered since childhood. Though he joined therapy in college, not much good came out of it. Destiny took him to a track of a salesman where he encountered lots of hurdles. People laughed at him, didn’t take him seriously and tried to discourage him in being a salesman. But akshay wanted to prove the society wrong and was able to do so by becoming a successful salesman. TISA gave Akshay the courage and confidence to thrive in the challenging environment around him. He was a regular participant of the Surat SHG and knew only he could help himself. At present he is doing great at his jobs with managers complimenting him and society accepting him the way he is day by day and that is all because he has accepted himself.
“If you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”
While the birds were on their way home, the evening for the conference attendees became a lot better with the poetic play written by Advocate Allwin Dave starring Aakriti, Renu, Anita and Allwin Dave himself. The play was called ‘Ha mai hakla hu. Yes, I am a stammerer’. The play gave insights in the life of a PWS in school/college and what all goes inside his/her head. It taught us about acceptance and how we need to embrace our imperfection because without it there’s no cure for stuttering.
After the tea break, we had with us Dhruv Gupta, a TISA member for the past 8 years. He talked to us about Food and how it is a medicine for us and the planet. Dhruv highlights the benefits of plant-based diet and how it can lead to a decrease in diseases and illness and how it’s a boon for our physical as well as mental well-being. He gave the alternates of animal and dairy products and broke the myths that are prevailing in the society regarding them.
As the sun came down, we were ready for another session. This session was on ‘Meditation as a form of self-help’ by Dr Paul Brocklehurst. He gave an endearing talk about cognitive behavioral therapy. Paul who himself is a stammerer is the author a brilliant book, “The Perfect Stutter”. He began the talk with a meticulously prepared power point presentation in which he went on to narrate that the goal of cognitive therapy is to change the belief of stammerers about stuttering and replace them with positive thoughts. He further explained how to approach stammering from a cognitive approach.
He goes on to talk about his beliefs about stammering growing up as a PWS and then illustrates how Cognitive Therapy as an approach tries to identify and question such beliefs as most of them are inaccurate and unhelpful. Such beliefs would ultimately be transformed by Cognitive Therapy into helpful ones. Cognitive Therapy as an approach has previous history of curing various phobias and other similar issues having a parallel with the issue of stammering, ultimately being helpful to the PWS spectrum. Over the past years research has been carried out by the Australian Stuttering Research Center and has found out that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can reduce negative emotions, anxiety and improve self- esteem in PWS.
He goes on to talk about unhelpful beliefs which affects one’s mental wellbeing. The first step of CBT would involve identifying what one believes about ones stammering. Many of those beliefs go back a long time in one’s life. Beliefs such as not being smart enough, not being able to find a partner, not being, of being unworthy compared to people who don’t stammer are common in PWS. To change such perspectives, he recommends reading books to understand what it means to become a human, he recommended On Becoming a Person, Road Less Travelled. Cognitive Therapy tries to understand the factors that contribute to the beginning of the stutter and whether the same ones apply later in someone’s life. However Cognitive Therapy might not be applicable to children it might be useful to the parents of PWS in understanding their children.
He recommends the online resources of TISA, to understand stammering better from a cognitive perspective.
With this session came the time which none of us wanted, the time for the closing ceremony. Harish Usgaonker, the National Coordinator of TISA gave the closing remarks and thanked all the members of the organizing committee who helped in running the conference in a smooth manner. With a few testimonials and feedbacks the closing ceremony came to an end.
An hour or two still in hand called for an open mic! Akanksha Mathur hosted the last open mic of the conference and as always, the response of the participants was tremendous. Everyone did their part to keep the flame of the conference alive. Some sang, some gave presentation, some shared their life experiences, and some gave their set of advice to the fellow stammerers. One thing was common to all, they all knew they were amongst a second family, a family where people understand them and where the mind is without fear and head held high. A carefree smile was seen on every stammerers face as the zoom meeting ended, a smile that said, “WE ARE NOT ALONE.”
And with this we began counting the days until the next TISA National Conference.
-Yatharth Sharma, proud stammerer
“HAKLAO MAGAR PYAAR SE!”