Monday, March 19, 2012

Myths and Stereotypes about Stuttering

There was an article How to curb a stammer  in Deccan Herald Living Supplement.   The author is supposedly a professional, but the article is filled with myths and stereotypes about stuttering and people who stutter.

I was very angry, doubly so because it is professionals such as these who should spread awareness about stuttering, and instead, he is propagating nonsense.  I wrote this letter to DH:

I read with dismay the misleading article on stuttering "How to curb a stammer" in today's DH Living.  The author suggests that low self-esteem and low confidence leads to stuttering.  This is one of the several myths and false perceptions that exist about stuttering and people who stutter.  Stuttering could possibly lead to low self-esteem and low confidence because of the insensitivity of people, but the converse is not necessarily true. 

The article also refers to stuttering as a "handicap."   It also perpetuates the same stereotypes about stuttering that ought to be dispelled by professionals like the author himself.  Misinformed articles like this perform a disservice to people who stutter by desensitizing people further.

Shruthi Rao.

It was not published.

So I thought I would take this up on my blog - because as a person who stutters myself, I have had it up to here with insensitivity towards people who stutter (PWS). 

In the article, the author says:

1) "Stuttering is a handicap."  It need not be a handicap.  Simple and plain.  I feel that labelling stuttering a handicap automatically creates negativity in the minds of PWS.  While it might be true that there are certain professions and situations where having a stutter is a disadvantage, there are many PWS who have gone beyond this disadvantage to achieve what they want to.  And PWS who are already wallowing in the depths of the misery of not being able to speak fluently, need to know this.  That life is not the end if you have a stutter.

2) "Stuttering is caused by low confidence and low self-esteem."  Like I said in my letter above, this is not true.  While it is still not certain what causes stuttering, making a generalized statement like this only serves to reinforce stereotypes, as well as give parents and teachers of young children especially, the wrong idea. 

Guess what, I started out thinking I'll tackle this man's article line by line.  But turns out that when I look at it that way, I will have to reproduce his whole article and tell you what is wrong with it. 

But suffice to say for now:

1) Nobody knows what causes stuttering, exactly.  We only know what possibly aggravates a stutter. (And it differs from person to person)

2) Just because people who don't usually stutter, tend to stutter when they are nervous and anxious or scared, it is assumed that people who stutter are by nature nervous and anxious and shy and not confident.  That is not true.

3) Stuttering might cause a person to become less and less confident.  But low-confidence doesn't necessarily cause stuttering.

4) PWS are not less intelligent or less capable in any way than people who don't stutter

5) A person who stutters severely can be happy, healthy individuals with fulfilling careers or happy childhoods, leading a contented life, with lots of friends, and with great relationships.   They can even be miserable and unhappy.  But this holds good even for a person who doesn't stutter. 

I'll probably do more posts on this topic soon, but I've got over my anger and dismay over that misleading article, and so I will stop now. 


shyam said...

Hear hear.

PS. You've been tagged... any time you have the time for a meme! :)

rajk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rajk said...

Hey Shruthi,
I wish you had taken the article apart point by point. Why not? Since the paper didn't even publish your letter. I'm sure your post will help lots of people, not just PWS but also laypeople who need to be made more aware of this condition.
I for one, am not clear about the difference between a stammer and a stutter. The article author has also called it 'stammer'. Can you clarify this too in your next post? Waiting for a more detailed post on this.

Radhika said...

Sometimes I do wonder if the articles are reviewed at all prior to publishing in the news papers. Nice of you that real facts are reaching the people via your blog.
The Hindu gives an email id where we can write to them about the content of articles(not same as the letter to the editor). And they promptly reply too. Check if DH has something like that.

Mangala said...

Yeah that article caught my eye too since sk went through a year and more of it. Within reading a few lines I knew it was hogwash and didn't bother reading further. And yes, what a load of misinformation for people newly dealing with it, or just becoming aware of it.

And you know, I forget that you stutter at all unless it is remarked upon explicitly, like in this blog post. Just goes to show how your personality, what you have to share and offer, your unique character, ideas, just the you-ness...these are the things that people interface with, not some technicality in that's the last thing that should be causing anyone low self-esteem!

Bharathi Prabhu said...

Shruthi, I too was dismayed by the article and have commented on it in the net version.
Am glad you took it up in the blog.
Best wishesdevys

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

great one. your best post till today.
me too angry. how dare any one label anything as a handicap? will they now start including being shy or bald or flat footed or large nosed or short or dark skinned [feel sic even writing this] or just being a girl? why not? any one of these can make one less confident at times.


Anonymous said...

I fully agree with Shruti's comments....well said. There are several reasons why people stutter/stammer (both terms used interchangeably). Some are socio-psychological in nature. This may be seen when kids are very young. Some form of stuttering is due to neurological/genetic (some in the family tree has it). In this particular case, there is some obstruction in neural transmitters that transmit speech signals to motor cortex (behind the frontal lobe) which in turn controls the speech organs. Anything else said about the subject is plain BS...

Shruthi said...

Shyam, I don't do tags anymore! Very rare! But I love to read you answering tags!

Rajk, I will, shortly. I realize that it is necessary. Stammer and stutter - same difference as lift and elevator. Stutter is used more in America.

Radhika, DH does have I tried, but the mail bounced back.

Mangala, I hope lots of PWS struggling with confidence issues read your comment, and know that this is possible too. Thank you.

Bharathi, Thank you so much for your comment. Could I request you to write for DH Living too about stuttering? Something to set things straight, perhaps? :)

Anon at 10:21, thank you! and ha ha!

Anon at 2:53, absolutely, thank you.

astrosunilnomy said...

very rightly said, liked every concept in the post. high confidence & self esteem makes a person a fluent & bold speaker. But the reverse is is not essentially true. qualities like confidence are intangible. Can you measure the confidence level of you kids & compare them. certainly not. So, if the confidence is low, how can we say that the person may stammer. In fact stammering is caused in some persons after a illness like severe fever. he body & speech organs are too weak to regulate the air flow properly required for fluent speech soon after fever. hence this develops into a bad habit. I will write a detailed article how speech therapy & stammer are related. probably you can put it as guest post, if at all is ok with you.

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