Find the Right Words - International Stammering Awareness Day — Scope | Disability forum
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Find the Right Words - International Stammering Awareness Day

Tori_Scope Posts: 8,276

Scope community team

What is stammering?

The charity Stamma had lots of useful information on what stammering is

Stammering is a neurological condition that makes it physically hard to speak.

Someone who stammers will repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person struggles to get the word out. 

Here are some other stammering facts:
  • About 8% of children will stammer at some point, but most will go on to talk fluently
  • For up to 3% of adults it will be a lifelong condition
  • In the UK we largely use the term stammering. Other countries use the term stuttering. But it's the same thing
  • There is no link between stammering and intellectual capacity
  • Everyone stammers differently, and to different degrees
  • Many find that, as they get older, the condition improves

What is it like to have a stammer?

The physical act of stammering is only a small part of the experience of growing up with a stammer. Stamma aim to give people with stammers a platform to speak about their experiences.

Physically, stammering can be deeply frustrating, but the main problem, time and again, is other people's responses.
Growing up with a stammer, you're always anticipating times when you'll need to talk, the negative responses, the ever-present expectation that you need fixing or need to breathe properly. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, anxiety and fear. Frustration that saying one's name – the one thing that most people who stammer will find hard to say – will stymie your every encounter. The frustration of not being taken seriously.  For many people who stammer it is this aspect of having a stammer which forms the greater part of the experience, and there are many people out there who swap words, avoid contact, keep silent, so that people don't know that they stammer.

Stammering in the media

Stamma also point out that there are fundamental issues with how stammering is portrayed in the media:
Stammering has been used as a device to make people laugh and to indicate dishonesty or low intelligence. This stereotyping, and the frustration caused by the difficulty of talking with others, has led many to avoid stammering and find ways of sounding ‘normal’.

Even shows that attempt to break down negative stereotypes of stammering can actually perpetuate misleading or harmful narratives. Jo Murphy has outlined her experience of being on a TV documentary about stammering:

When I was younger I was in a TV documentary about stammering, but not even that eased my isolation. ‘Help Me To Speak’ kind of romanticised my experience, to an extent. My struggle became an object for the world to behold, but who was really watching these things? A few people recognised me, but nothing substantial. This only helped me realise that this was never going to normalise anything. It unintentionally perpetuated the reality that kept me chained behind that line. They only felt sorry for me.
Unfortunately, there aren't many positive, or incidental, representations of people who stammer in the media. 

Using the right language

I'm sure many of you remember Musharaf's famous speech on Channel 4's Educating Yorkshire, too. Although this was a powerful moment that showed that those who stammer don't have to be limited, much of the conversation revolved around him 'overcoming' his 'struggle', rather than the power of others finally listening to what he had to say.

10 year old Sam made headlines recently with his poem about the language used to describe his stammer.

So, what language should we avoid, and what language should we use? Here is some guidance from Stamma:

  • People do not ‘suffer from’ and are not ‘afflicted by’ stammering. They stammer and live with it
  • A stammer is not a ‘weakness’ or ‘a defect’. It is simply a stammer
  • A stammer is not ‘terrible’ or ’debilitating’
  • People don’t ‘defeat’ or ‘overcome’ their stammer. They ‘manage’ it

Unhelpful assumptions about people who stammer:

  • They want to sound fluent- some don’t, some do
  • They should learn to breathe properly- breathing techniques may help some people manage a stammer, but they don’t remove the condition
  • It is surprising they excel in their work- stammering isn’t a reflection of competence or intelligence

Unhelpful Responses

  • Don’t make a joke when someone stammers
  • Don’t assume that they’re nervous or need to take a breath
  • Don’t pity someone who stammers

Find The Right Words campaign

This is why Stamma have started their Find The Right Words campaign, and their message is clear:
We stammer, it's how we talk. We need people to simply accept this and move away from ideas about how we can or how we should change. In this day and age, stammering shouldn't be viewed negatively and met with suggestions to 'fix it'. It should be embraced and acknowledged as simply the way someone speaks.

What representations of people who stammer would you like to see in the media? Have you seen any good representations recently? Do you have any personal experiences of stammering that you'd like to share?

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