06 April 2010
By Ajanta Chakraborty
Speech Disorder Rises Alarmingly In Kolkata, Thanks To Anxiety & Social Pressure, But Expert Help Is At Hand
In fact, a survey has found that the number of stutterers in Kolkata has gone up by 20% in the last five years.
Arif and his ilk shouldn’t lose heart. They can now join Kolkata’s first self help group for increasing the confidence level of those who stammer.
“We must make them talk. They can stammer, stutter and sweat, but they must have the courage to speak. Eventually they will either get over this problem or lead a better life with it,” said Arjun Dasgupta, consultant ENT surgeon, Medica ENT Institute. Doctors at the hospital have just completed a six–day workshop, conducted by Pune–based The Indian Stammering Association (TISA), and realised the necessity of a setting up selfhelp group in Kolkata. Bangalore has one.
Medica has invited other city hospitals to join the mission, by sending in members and consultants who would instill a sense of confidence in stutterers.
Those with this speech defect are repeatedly rebuked and ridiculed by their listeners – including family members. The trauma leads them to simply stop communicating. Somnath Mukherjee, speech pathologist, Apollo Hospital, said, “Confidence is the cure for stutterers. They should be encouraged to talk in small groups and develop a close–knit friendship that would help them overcome the inhibition to talk.”
The self help group will meet every fortnight and members will chat informally, recalling and sharing their experiences as children. Those conducting the sessions will teach them techniques like mirror exercise, showing them how to stammer easily, effortlessly and nicely. They will also be taught the role of eye contact and positive body language while communicating with “outsiders”.
“The role of humour and the ability to laugh at oneself in healing can’t be denied,” said Dasgupta. “We may all stutter if pushed far enough. This may happen suddenly – during a very stressful interrogation in a police station or under prolonged stress at workplace. Unfortunately, this sort of acquired stammering is on the rise.”
Sachin Srivastav, the doctor who heads TISA, explained: “Stammering, unless it is neurogenic, is almost curable if the patient is guided and treated properly. The idea is to increase the confidence level of the patient. You can only do so if you encourage them to speak with people with similar problem. They more freely they communicate, the more comfortable will they be with themselves. This process will eventually minimize stuttering.”
It’s impossible to guess from Srivastav’s slightly faltering speech that he too has been a stutterer.
Medica’s doctors have compiled data to deduce that the number of stutterers in Kolkata has jumped by at least 20% since 2005, making the figure hover somewhere around 2 lakh. Among them are developmental stutterers, who developed the problem as children and grew up with it for want of speech therapy. Then there are those who have become long–term stutterers because of anxiety and low confidence. “Unfortunately, this group of patients is on the rise and we must do something for them at once,” said Dasgupta.
“Some would, however, believe that anxiety, low self–esteem, nervousness and stress do not cause stuttering per se. Rather, living with stigmatized speech problem can sometimes make the symptoms worse,” said speech therapist Durba Chattopadhyay, who will participate in the self help group. “Instead of tracing the cause, our job is to effect the result. Hence, the self help group which will encourage the members to meet every fortnight, mingle with each other and boost confidence.” The worst cases are neurogenic stutterers who never really recover, but could always improve with rigorous speech therapy and psychological treatment.
Cause ‘N’ Effect
Reasons for stammering:
- Genetic disorders
- A head injury, tumour, stroke or drug abuse/misuse
- Severe emotional trauma or stress
- Stuttering can have a severe impact on a person’s functioning and emotional state
- Many stutterers have to bear a high emotional cost – losing jobs or promotions and relationships broken or not pursued
- Stuttering does not affect and has no bearing on intelligence
- Kolkata has about 2 lakh stutterers
- The incidence has risen by 20% in the last five years
- Most developed stammering as children
- Half the children who stammer have a close family member who stammers as well
- A child who starts stuttering before 3 to 5 years is less likely to stutter later in life
- Long–term stuttering is four times more common among boys than girls
- For some children, the problem persists. Parents must never add to the child’s stress by drawing too much attention to the stuttering.
- The calmer the stutter feels, less acute the symptoms
- Often, stutterers use techniques like avoiding eye contact, blinking, head jerks, hand tapping, tongue clicking and starter sounds and words like ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘you know’ to overcome stammering. They work at first but gradually become a habit that is difficult to break
Legends who overcame stuttering
Roman emperor Claudius
Writer Lewis Carroll
King George VI