The Indian Stammering Association’s (TISA) self-help groups empower individuals with tools and techniques to inform, motivate, and be comfortable with stammering
When Joe Biden gets sworn in as the 46th President of United States of America on January 20, 2021, it is a proud moment for People Who Stammer (PWS). He has often spoken of his childhood stutter, and is a role model for scores of people with speech impairments.
Bengaluru-based Abhinav Singh says he tells people he stammers during office presentations or lectures as a visiting faculty member at Symbiosis Institute, Pune. “I tell my audience to share doubts so that I can explain again or repeat topics,” says the co-founder of CloudxLab, a tech start-up.
At 22 he would blame society, God and fate for his suffering. With time and work, acceptance, coming out of his comfort zone and Vipasana have made a big difference in Abhinav’s life. He says, “I voluntarily spoke at open conferences so that the other fluent speakers understand our challenges.” He adds that the reticence he felt helped him understand other marginalised parts of society, like the issues faced by the LGBTQ community.
Stuttering or stammering is a disorder that affects the flow of speech. Words, sounds and syllables may get repeated for a prolonged time while speaking. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that roughtly 3 million Americans stutter. Given the statistics and stigma associated with the condition, the self-help groups of The Indian Stammering Association (TISA) have been working across cities to inform, motivate and empower people with tools and techniques to build self-confidence. While speech therapists work on speech exercises and techniques to improve communication, the community support system helps individuals listen, share common experiences, and support each other.
- Giving four hours a week, consistently for six months brings a huge change. These four hours can be utilised in:
- Reading and practising the TISA self-help manual (English and Hindi) available for download on stammer.in/resources. These manuals have a ‘learning by doing’ approach.
- Enrolling for TISA MOOC (Massive Open Online course) and completing tasks in 4 to 6 months.
- Attending SHG meetings once a week.
TISA was started by Dr Satyendra Srivastava aka Dr Sachin in 2009 in Dehradun with a booklet of information on breathing exercises and information for parents. More than 20 self-help groups are active across cities including in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai, Bhopal, Kolkata and in Goa and Assam. Ever since the pandemic, the weekly meetings have gone virtual.
Every week around 25 people use GoogleMeet to join the virtual Hyderabad meetings. The group consists of anxious parents, college students and IT professionals from software companies. “Final year students are concerned if stammering will affect their job interviews but when they see us — a group of successful professionals, they are hopeful and realise that they can speak on this platform without being judged,” says Sugandh Rakha, an employee of ServiceNow, a software company.
“Stammering cannot be a barrier to any of your dreams, big or small; one can even be a president of one of the biggest developed countries,” adds TISA’s national coordinator Harish Usgaonker. Here’s how TISA works on the individual, through the group.
Stop chasing fluency is the first lesson for members. Even if a person stammers on a particular word/syllable, they are encouraged to continue speaking so that the stress and struggle is reduced. Citing an example of Delhi-based doctor Dr Humayun Kabir Khan, Harish says, “Humayun stammered while verifying his identity at the AIIMS exam. Upset at his miserable performance, he skipped the next UPSC exam at the same centre.”
Meditation, completing tasks and attending Kolkata SHG meetings brought in a perspective change as Humayun began introducing himself with a smile. He then enrolled in the NEET PG Exam, wrote it in the same examination centre which he dreaded, and passed with an All India Rank of 131. Currently he is pursuing MD Radio Diagnosis in UCMS (University College of Medical Sciences) and GTB (Guru Tej Bahadur) Hospital, Delhi. The tasks: recording a video and speaking about yourself or talking on a topic in an open place without preparation, are designed to bring in a mindset change, and not to work on the stammer. This is to break the stigma and let people be comfortable with their stammering. Most individuals discontinue attending SHG meetings once they finish the tasks but an hour of everyday practice will sustain the improvement.
The stuttering modification techniques help modify the way a person stammers instead of hiding it. In ‘Bouncing’, individuals bounce the word they stammer. Harish explains, “Bounce makes repetitions gentle and quick. If I stammered on the word ‘Goa’ instead of saying ‘I stay in ‘Ga ga ga Goa’ I bounce that word to say ‘Ga Ga Goa’. I still stammer but the struggle is less.”
Prolongation is another technique where one prolongs or elongates words to be in control of the speech. “People become conscious of their stammering and want to quickly finish the sentence but do not focus on the content. It is easy to come out of the block when one lowers the speed and focusses on the content,” adds Harish.
Speech pauses also help. As part of a communication workshop, members sit around a box of sweets. Instead of immediately answering questions, each one walks to the sweet box, takes a pause before biting into the sweet and slowly replies. This break helps one to collect thoughts and answer in creative/humorous ways.