By Mpho Shelile

MASERU – In a world where fluency of speech is often taken for granted, this commemoration emerges as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) is an annual event celebrated on October 22nd to raise awareness about stuttering and promote understanding and support for people who stutter. The day provides an opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with stuttering and to educate the public about the challenges faced by individuals who stutter.

People make jokes about everything; about our body size, our color, about citizens of every country in the world, about men, women, children, and teenagers, about cultures, history, and religion, about various human conditions or mindsets. Some of them are genuinely funny, while some of them are downright cruel and offensive. In particular, jokes about disabilities can be very mean-spirited and hurtful towards those who have those disabilities as well as their friends and families.

That is why so many different disability awareness days exist, to help us understand how much harder the lives of the disabled are, even when their disabilities seem relatively minor. Stuttering can pose real problems in both the personal and professional lives of those suffering from it and take years to get under control, not to mention the amount of embarrassment and frustration it can cause in the meantime.

Dr. Teboho Frantši, who works at Hearsense Hearing, Speech and Balance Clinic, and the only speech therapist in Lesotho. As an audiologist, she explains to us the science and the misconceptions around speech disorder, in an interview with Informative newspaper. Dr. Teboho stated that stuttering is a disorder that appears as an interruption in the smooth flow or “fluency” of speech. Breaks or disruptions that occur in the flow of speech are labeled “dysfluencies”. All speakers may experience disfluent events, especially under certain conditions, such as nervousness, stress, fatigue, or complexity of language.

Additionally, there are no speech therapists in local public hospitals and there are only a few audiologists at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (Tšepong) and in some private hospitals. Dr. Teboho states there is no specific cause for stuttering, but it can be inherited. “The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. However, most experts agree that stuttering has a neurological basis, affecting areas of the brain that control how speech and language are processed. Stuttering can run in families due to a genetic cause.  It is a speech disorder that involves frequent and significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. People who stutter know what they want to say, but have difficulty saying it. For example, they may repeat or prolong a word, a syllable, or a consonant or vowel sound. Or they may pause during speech because they’ve reached a problematic word or sound.”

When asked if it was true that stuttering goes away with age, Dr. Teboho said that there are different types of stuttering and the only one that goes away with age is if the said person delayed talking as a toddler, “ Preschoolers might not be aware of their stuttering, and stuttering won’t affect their development. Preschoolers who stutter can have the same social skills as non-stuttering children. Your child isn’t more likely to be shy or withdrawn compared with children their age who don’t stutter.

“But if stuttering continues into primary school, it can become a problem. If your child stutters, they might feel frustrated or embarrassed because of the way other children react to the way they speak. Your child might avoid talking or change what they want to say to avoid stuttering. They might not want to join in on classroom discussions. Primary school-age children are less likely to be thought of as leaders by their peers and more likely to be bullied compared to children who don’t stutter.” She said

“My message for this International Stutter Day is that everyone has a different way of talking, laughing, and singing, it is just like a fingerprint, and you need to be proud of it because that is a part of you. So be proud of yourself, be proud of the way you speak, we live in an era where speaking a different language is considered smart but sometimes forcing our kids to learn new languages is one thing that might cause our kids to stutter”, said Dr. Teboho ending the interview by advising all parents to be aware of how their children talk, if their speech problem is detected earlier it has a huge chance of being cured.

Mr. Moeketsi Rankhone an entrepreneur, used to stutter as a young boy but his stuttering seems to have gotten better as he grew up. He was asked what he thinks causes stuttering.

“Growing up, I tried my best to hide my stuttering and to pass as fluent. I avoided sounds and words that I might stutter on. I avoided ordering the dishes I wanted to eat at the school tuck-shop to avoid stuttering. I asked my teacher to not call on me in class because I didn’t want to deal with the laughter from my classmates when they heard my stutter. Those experiences motivated me to investigate stuttering so that I can help people who stutter, including myself, to better cope with the condition”, he replied.

 When asked how this whole thing affect him while growing up? His response was “Lots of anxiety and very low self-esteem. I remember thinking pretty much all the time,” ‘Why can’t I talk like them?  The words just come out of their mouth so easily.’ I was jealous. I wanted to be like them and since I wasn’t, I felt inferior”, he replied.

When asked to tell us about his experience with stuttering as a child. Mr. Rankhone responded that, it was terrible because kids and even adults made fun of him. “They would mock me and think I was stupid because I could not talk right. I shut down socially to some extent. I was a nervous kid; afraid someone would ask me a question or make me answer in class. However, the paralyzing fear of doing a presentation in front of the class still haunts me to this day but when I do a speech to hundreds of professionals, I take that experience and use it to my advantage. “

Based on your experiences, what would you like to tell children who stutter?  He replied by advising all to “Go for therapy. Do what the therapist says and practice, never give up, practice even if you feel like you’re all alone, practice. I hope theirs gets better with age and self-confidence like mine did, I wish them all a happy International Stutter Day”,Mr. Rankhone concluded