I’ve had a stammer for as long as I can remember. A younger me would’ve wished for a cure, but now all I wish for is to feel a sense of belonging and to be treated with patience by the people around me. When I worked in corporate banking, that wasn’t always guaranteed; working at Chemistry, that’s exactly what I get every day.
I’m not entirely sure what causes stammering, but research shows that a combination of factors is involved: genetics, health pressures, sensitivity, environment and a bunch of other stuff. Interestingly, stammering affects four times as many men as women and statistics show us that around 500,000+ adults in the UK stammer, which is about 1% of the adult population.
It’s important to note that everyone who stammers is different and the way their stammer manifests itself is different. Everyone is an individual, so the therapy or training given to ‘cure’ the speech impediment is individual too. I guess, in reality, it’s very much dependent on how long you’ve lived with it or how well you know your condition. That said, it doesn’t take long for someone with the condition to become an expert on it.
So, what is a stammer – and why? Let’s get technical for a moment. According to Robert Quesal, Ph.D., Western Illinois University, it’s defined as follows:
Stammering is a disorder of fluency that is characterised by various behaviours that interfere with the forward flow of speech. While all individuals are disfluent to some extent, what differentiates stammerers from non-stammerers is the frequency of their disfluency and/or the severity of their disfluency. However, the other factor that differentiates stammerers from non-stammerers is that almost invariably the disfluencies that the stammerer regards as “stammering” are accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. It is this loss of control, which can’t be observed or experienced by the listener, that is generally most problematic for the stammerer.
So, how does my stammer manifest itself? At various points of my life, it’s manifested itself in various ways. For a period of time it was the typical r-rap style. It then evolved into a screeching sound, like cars breaking or turning at high speeds. Then there was the phase where it was as though I was out of breath, like I’d done a serious workout at the gym. Now? It’s a concoction of them all. A cocktail of eccentricities, if you will.
In situational terms, I become more disfluent when increased demands are made of me in a speaking situation or at times when I’ve got high expectations of myself – speaking on the telephone or being at an interview, for example. Another common instance is when a specific response is needed, like saying my name, address or phone number. And using complex words of several syllables is and always will be a challenge.
Over time, I’ve come up with my own tricks and ways of overcoming my condition in these situations. A lot of the time, people won’t explicitly realise I’ve got a stammer, but they might be aware that something’s not quite right. If I want to ask someone to pass me the pen on the table, but I know I’m going to stammer on the word ‘pen’, I might ask for them to pass me the ‘blue’ pen instead. In that moment, that might sound a little unusual, a little jarring (especially when there’s only one pen on the table).
Aside from the physical side of the condition, it’s important to remember that stuttering is not simply a speech difficulty, but is also a communication problem. It can undermine a person’s self-esteem; affect their interaction with others; impede their education; and seriously hamper their employment potential. School-children who stammer are more likely to be bullied.
For all these reasons and more, a sense of belonging for someone with my condition is crucial. Yes, it’s a part of life to go through trials and tribulations, and my stammer has been difficult at times, especially in my younger years, but the burden becomes much lighter when I am part of a group of people who see me in the same light as everybody else. I’ve also reached a point in my life where I know that my so-called ‘impediment’ isn’t a factor in making friends or getting a job, and that I can be taken on my credentials, not my stammer.
Chemistry’s values totally inform the way we advocate belonging every day: passionately, bravely and humanly. Working here, in an environment of genuine inclusion, means I’m surrounded with openness, understanding and tolerance. Working here means my stammer couldn’t matter less.