How often have you-have you been in a ………..sssss- situation, where you felt out of control, b .. b…because, u..u…you, couldn’t ssss…speak co…cohe..coherently?
If that answer is ‘often’, you know you have a stutter. You are familiar with varying involuntary speech impediments ranging from syllable repetition (e.g., o-o-pen the door), multi-syllable repetition (e.g. I want-I want- I want a coffee) to prolongation of sounds (mmmmmmmy book), involuntary pauses, verbal interjections (this order…um..this order) or involuntary non verbal tics such as jerking head, smacking lips.
All these make normal communication a nightmare. Just the kind of nightmare that Emily Blunt remembers from her years of struggle with stuttering. Yes, it is hard to believe that the ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ star, who has a successful movie career with multiple awards to her credit, once suffered from a severely debilitating stutter.
If it is any consolation it puts you among approximately 1% of people in the United States right alongside her.
“By the age of 12, it was really bad, so I was quite quiet because I just didn’t want to speak…” she shared on CBS.
Stuttering makes it impossible for people to speak normally. As a result, they turn shy and often avoid interactions for fear of ridicule. The worst part no matter how much someone wants, they cannot just ‘stop’ stuttering.
What causes stuttering?
In 2010, American Human geneticist Dennis Drayna and his team found that three human genes had correlations with stuttering. About right, Emily Blunt has spoken about having an uncle, a cousin and a grandfather, who all stuttered too. Other studies have found that it may develop as a result of childhood trauma, or stressful situations during the critical early years.
Either way, no definitive causes of stuttering have been identified so far. According to Katerina Maniadaki, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Western Attica, at best what we know is that stuttering is a symptom of a complex psychological mechanism which resembles the cause behind anxiety disorders.
As the scientists still hunt clues into the causes, sadly there is no “cure” for stuttering in sight.
So does mean that there is no way to overcome stuttering? Is there never going to be an escape from the vicious cycle of being anxious about one’s stutter resulting in increased stuttering? So does this mean that every little social interaction; even something as simple as buying a coffee on the way to work is going to be a hellish nightmare? Then one cannot even begin to grasp the enormity of a stutterer’s dilemma when faced with other important situations that can make or break their careers, romantic and social relationships or other high-risk situations in public life.
Well, apparently all is not lost. Interestingly, Emily Blunt probably owes her very acting career to the terrible stammer she developed at a young age. Yes! When she was going through that awkward phase, one of her teachers suggested her to participate in the school play. The teacher must have known about the odd lifesaver for stutterers.
Most stutterers report that they are able to overcome the tic when they adopt speech patterns incongruent with their usual speech style.
This is what really helped Blunt. Not only was she able to overcome her stutter while playing a part in the play, she discovered her amazing acting talent and went on to be the powerhouse performer with ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Sunshine Cleaning’, ‘Into the woods’ and her most recent outing in the critically acclaimed ‘The Girl on the Train’.
Indeed there are many tricks that stutters have used to manage the disorder. Most of them distract the speaker from their self by adopting variations in their natural speech patterns.
You can try some of these too.
Practice particular conversations: Begin with small and simple phrases that you need often, like ” Hi I am Rob” Or” Hi, how may I help you.” With practice, you will speak confidently and the words will begin to roll automatically off your tongue.
Gradually, increase the length and the number of phrases. You may later begin to read a book aloud.
Breathing: it is helpful to slow down breathe before speaking. This gives you ample breath to vocalize your message and helps avoid the irregular pattern of speech that is caused by improper breathing. It may also help you reign in your anxiety and give you time to focus on what you are about to say.
Practice with mirrors: It helps to develop confidence and to observe your own pattern of speech. Once you notice the errors you usually make, you can begin to practice the right patterns and develop better speech over time.
Adopt a rhythm: While it is not known why this works, but most stutterers are able to sing normally. Try a slight sing-song rhythm when you talk.
Practice with an accent: Try to speak in an accent different from what comes naturally to you. Again we don’t know why this works, but many people benefit from this exercise.
Visualize: Imagine you are reading the words you are speaking. Or imagine the situation, objects or people you are speaking about. It will help you focus on your message and take your mind off the anxiety about your stutter.
Once you begin to make small improvements keep going and keep scaling your exercises. Hearing yourself improve and speak without hindrances will begin a positive cycle of confidence leading to further improvements.
But most importantly, allow yourself to have your bad days. As Emily Blunt says, she still has days when she is stressed and slips back into the stutter, but the important thing is, she knows she doesn’t have to stop there. Neither should you!
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