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Self help group for those who stammer

Azaan Javaid, Feb 10, 2015, DHNS: 2:38 IST
This Sunday afternoon, men in their 20s and 30s formed a huddle in the Central Park of Connaught Place to discuss about the issues they face in their daily lives. This self help group or SHG meets five times a year in different parts of India to chalk out solutions for each other over cups of tea and a few smiles. “Accepting who you are is the solution,” said Vishal Gupta, an IT professional and now the New Delhi coordinator of The Indian Stammering Association (TISA).

“The first thing that I tell people during the sessions is that only therapy will reduce your stammering. We have to say to ourselves that it is OK to stammer and continue to talk without the fear of others judging us. Stammering is not a thing to be ashamed of,” Gupta continued.

A resident of Ghaziabad, Gupta started working for a city-based IT company few years ago. “I was afraid of how I will reply to the questions of my interviewers. Fortunately, I got through but many more like me suffer only because they are not confident enough to accept who they are. They spend their lives in silence fearing that they will be made fun of. That is why during our session, we focus on telling people to accept themselves. There lies the key to our problem,” said Gupta. “Other than this, members are told to pause between their sentences. Another method is to repeat the first alphabet of the word they are going to say. For example I would introduce myself as V...ishal,” he added. Gupta also runs a website by the name ‘stammerfreely’.

Over the years researchers have suggested that there is no single cause of developmental stammering. A variety of hypotheses and theories suggest multiple factors contribute to stammering including genetics, physical trauma at or around birth or cerebral palsy.

“Stammering is ‘neither here, nor there’ kind of thing. It is neither a well-understood disease like dyslexia nor is it a lifestyle choice like being transvestite,” said Dr Satyendra Srivastava, the coordinator of TISA. Srivastava, who himself used to stammer during his youth, serves as more than a role model for the people who have joined TISA’s self help group. Headquartered at Herbertpur in Dehradun, TISA was established in 2008 and has ever since, risen to prominence among people who stammer. In Delhi alone the group has gained quite a few members. But is it enough?

According to both Gupta and Dr Srivastava, the scathing ridicule that people with a stammer, witness in mass media and films coerces them to go into ‘hiding’. “Media too treats it often as a funny and strange issue. I can think of just one serious treatment in movies, The King’s Speech,” Dr Srivastava added.

The King’s Speech, a 2010 British film, told the story of King George VI, played by Colin Firth, and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffry Rush). Logue had helped King George to overcome his stammering problem before he could make his first wartime radio broadcast on Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939. Bollywood, not only is yet to see a film on the line of King’s Speech, but has over the years used stammering as a comical tool.

“All this puts a huge burden on young people growing up with stammering. I was one of them, in 70s and 80s. I tried later on to mobilise the stammering community to do something about it and TISA is the outcome,” concluded Dr Srivastava.

‘The movement’ as Gupta likes to call it, has definitely garnered some attention. “As far as their movement goes, it really is one of a kind in that it seeks to use the idea of self help,” said Abhishek Dutta , who works for a production house called Bring Home Stories. Dutta had made a short film on the same issue and he sees the self help group as a great influence.

“More than professional help, it tells people who stammer that they can help themselves and each other. And that is what they are actually succeeding in doing,”
he concluded.

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