I’ve been spending the last few days in Skye where as many of you know my family originally came from and where I still have close relatives. It is always good to return ‘home’ and to catch up with folks, explore parts I do not know and get on with some tasks. It is an escape from my world of work into a place that simply possesses another rhythm and pattern of living to anywhere else I know. In October the seasons meld into one another on Skye but this time despite the robust winds the weather has been glorious, and I have rarely seen the place look more beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Yesterday with other members of my family I spent some time re-painting the lettering on a family gravestone. Might seem an odd activity but it was both rewarding and humbling to spend time in making sure that the names and memories of my kin would be visible despite the Atlantic gales which sweep that part of north-west Skye. It was good to share stories, learn new things and be together. One of the people whose name I repainted on stone was my uncle Donald who sadly died in his forties now some forty years ago.
Donald was my mother’s only sibling which in itself was an unusual fact in a Hebridean family pre the Second World War. His birth was difficult, and it resulted in him developing some learning disabilities which included a stammer and stutter that more pronounced the more anxious he was. But I absolutely loved Donald as a child and adolescent and very much regret the fact he died when I was in my late teens. His instinctive knowledge of nature, of animals and the seasons was far more important and impressive to me than the fact he struggled to read and could barely write. His influence on me was marked not least in that I became aware through the time I spent with him how much he was the victim of bullying and harassment because of his disabilities and especially his stutter. Although at times he found communication difficult what was certainly the case was that with patience and interest anyone could communicate with him and vice-versa. Sadly, not all people showed him such patience. Far from it. He had a manual job and one of his foremen made his life a simple hell with constant mimicking of his speech and other behaviours which today would have resulted in dismissal. But not then. The truth was that though Donald tried to hide his upset I knew how much it hurt him to be the victim of such belittling inhumanity and to be continually the object of another’s derision and amusement.
I thought a lot yesterday about how hard his life was as I re-painted his name on his gravestone. So, it was with some sense of synchronicity that in searching as I often do for what is happening in terms of the global calendar of events and occasions that I found out that tomorrow is Stuttering Awareness Day.
Organisations like the Scottish Stammering Network use the day to raise awareness of stammering and also to challenge and address some of the stereotypes and presumptions which exist around this remarkably common condition. They and other groups are well worth exploring not least if you are involved in the world of social care and support where many individuals who receive services and support in their own home or in a residential home live with stuttering or stammering.
Stuttering or stammering is a disruption in speech pattern involving disruptions, or dysfluencies, in a person’s speech, but there are nearly as many ways to stutter as there are people who stutter. Yet like so many conditions it is often misunderstood. It is now widely recognised that stuttering is a neurological condition which impacts and influences the production of speech and the use of language. But as with my uncle so many presumptions are made about people who stutter, and they are often the victims of discrimination and inappropriate treatment. In addition, the impact of such behaviours upon the self-esteem and self-value of those who live with stuttering can often be very negative indeed.
In exploring a world, I knew so little about I discovered that there are many myths and misunderstandings around stuttering, including amongst other things that:
‘Because fluent speakers occasionally become more disfluent when they are nervous or under stress, some people assume that people who stutter do so for the same reason. While people who stutter may be nervous because they stutter, nervousness is not the cause.
Emotional factors often accompany stuttering but it is not primarily a psychological condition. Stuttering treatment/therapy often includes counselling to help people who stutter deal with attitudes and fears that may be the result of stuttering.
Adults and children who stutter may sometimes be hesitant to speak up, even if they are not otherwise shy by nature. People who stutter can be assertive and outspoken, and many succeed in leadership positions that require talking.
Although the manner in which people stutter may develop in certain patterns, the cause of stuttering itself is not due to a habit. Because stuttering is a neurological condition, many, if not most, people who stutter as older children or adults will continue to do so—in some fashion—even when they work very hard at changing their speech.’ (see About The NSA – National Stuttering Association (westutter.org))
It is estimated that perhaps one per cent of the total global population stutter but that perhaps as many as 5% of all children go through a period where they stutter. It is also generally accepted that stuttering is more common among males than females. In adults, the male-to-female ratio is about 4 to 1; in children, it is closer to 2 to 1.
In other words, these are remarkably common phenomena. It is therefore really important that appropriate support and resource is identified to addressing the issues of those who stutter or stammer.
I leave you with a poem written by Natasha Foster called ‘Lighting Candles’ . Natasha wrote of the poem:
“Sometimes I have felt that my stammer stole the words from my mouth, but in writing, I can express things as I want to. There are losses and gains connected to having a stammer, and I tried to reflect that in my poem.
‘I called my poem ‘Lighting candles’ because when I’m open about my stammer, and share my experiences, I like to imagine lighting a small candle of awareness in others. I find motivated to think of increased ‘light’ being shed on the subject, and how this might help me, and others like me, who stammer.”
Shame and pain
A faltering start
A sense of grief
At a life a bit bashed
By a loss of speech
Some opportunities dashed
My stammer is my uneasy friend
One that will probably stay till the end
City Lit, Stamma, and my fellow peers who know
Helped me change my thinking, learn and grow
I’m working on being a woman of pride
My stammer lives within me, part of me,
By my side
I’m free to speak with a stammer
And share who I am
My person, my experience, my spirit, I can!
Self acceptance and hope
Every day is a new start.
(Taken from Poem: ‘Lighting candles’ | STAMMA)