Speak not-so-easy

The BBC often come up with some very interesting and pertinant articles, and they have one today on a problem that I had – stammering.

It wasn’t a huge problem for me when I was younger, and I don’t remember when it started, but I often had problems starting sentences and I had lots of issues stumbling over words. I never wanted to answer the telephone because of it, and I was always nervous when having to speak to anyone. I spoke, or tried to, very quickly. It was like my brain was going one speed and my mouth couldn’t keep up. It lasted for a long time – into early adulthood.

Since then, though, I’ve found speaking easier and easier. I doubt that anyone meeting me now would even know that I used to have a stammer, but I still have the odd diction problem. My girlfriend often complains that she can’t understand me due to a combination of my Yorkshire accent and the fact that I tend to mumble. Mumbling at speed with a Yorkshire accent is a bit of a barrier to being understood! I think the mumbling bit is something I carried over from my younger days – a lack of confidence then has resulted in me naturally speaking too quietly now.

Luckily for me, though, I’m one of the 80% of sufferers that “spontaneously recovered”. I suppose my own stammer was pretty mild compared to many and I’ve been able to grow out of it – as my self-confidence grew so my stammer disappeared. I do feel for the poor bastards that haven’t been able to get rid of this affliction – it’s an intensely frustrating thing to have. It’s certainly not funny if you have it.

Videos showing people stammering are being classified as comedy on YouTube. It’s typical of people’s attitude towards the disability, say those with the condition.

“You can see them thinking ‘arsey little bugger, I was only having a laugh’. You’re the comedy show and if you don’t play along you’re the one without a sense of humour, the one ruining everyone else’s fun.”

It’s an everyday scenario for someone with a stammer and nearly 750,000 people in the UK have one, according to campaigners.

While many disabilities elicit only compassion, stammerers seem to be viewed by some as fair game. After all, what’s the problem? It’s only a stammer.

“It’s not ‘only’ a stammer if you have one,” says Leys Geddes, director of the British Stammering Association (BSA).

“Simple things, like ordering a sandwich at lunchtime, are a complete nightmare. They take an immense amount of energy and thought. For some, stammering simply becomes unbearable.”

The YouTube situation is indicative of people’s attitude in general, says the BSA. Videos showing people struggling to speak have been categorised as “comedy” by those who’ve posted them.

I get annoyed when people take the piss out of stutterers. WIthout context stammering is not funny to me, although there’s plenty of opportunity to use it within comedy. I think that Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright was particularly funny and Michael Palin was hilarious as the stuttering dog-murderer in A Fish Called Wanda. Having a stammer can be funny but to just video some poor sap falling over a few sentences is, well, completely insensitive and not funny at all.

I’ve always believed that any subject can be the open to having the piss taken out of it, but there has to be a line somewhere. You should at least acknowledge that laughing at someone stammering is hurtful to them – this is not a trivial matter to them.

Ronnie Barker’s character Arkwright in Open All Hours – can trivialise the disability and make people think someone with a stammer has mental issues, says the BSA.

No wonder some people think poking fun at stammering is ok – and a lot of people do, say those with the disability. But tackling them over their attitude is not easy.

“When you stammer it’s as if you are incapable of thought, you’re just locked in time trying to get that word out,” says Claire Pirnie, 25, herself a stammerer.

“If someone makes a dig at me I usually wait until I’m calmer and then go back and tackle them over it. Many people don’t even realise it is a disability and are apologetic.

“What really upsets me is people dismissing it as a superficial thing, something that can easily be dealt with. It’s just not that easy. The reality is stammering is on my mind every minute of every day, I adapt my behaviour all the time and avoid situations. People with stammers refer to it as being a walking-talking, self-editing machine.”

I can certainly relate to that last paragraph. I still avoid speaking with people I don’t know and I’m almost postive that this is a throw-back to my earlier stammering. The thing is – I’m fine in new company. I really shouldn’t worry about such things, and yet I do.

This article has made me think a great deal about stammering and my attitude towards it. I hope it does for you too

%d bloggers like this: