Ways I communicate with a speech disorder
Since I was a child, I have struggled with a speech impediment, a stammer. Around 1% of the world’s adult population stutters.
It affects how I speak, what I say, who I speak to and when.
I have constant thoughts in my head: “can I say that word”, “will my brain and mouth work together?”
It’s surprising really, that while I have a speech impediment, I chose a career in Communication.
What is a speech disorder?
A speech disorder or impediment is when a person has difficulty creating and forming the speech sounds needed to communicate with others. ‘Normal’ speech is sometimes disrupted by stuttering, stammering, or even the inability to talk.
Speech impediments cover a range of conditions, including:
This is not an exhaustive list and there are many different types of conditions resulting from birth, injury, illness, and neurological disorders or damage.
How it can impact communication
The largest impact on the affected person is not being able to communicate properly due to their condition.
This causes a huge amount of frustration and irritation. They may know exactly what they need to say, but they are unable to say it in a way that can be understood.
An effective two-way conversation becomes difficult, one-sided, and imbalanced.
When I’m faced with trying to communicate but realise that my stammering is affecting what I say, I become frustrated, angry, annoyed, and ashamed. I feel my inability to talk properly correlates to my competence.
This feeling is one I have battled my entire life. At times I know that what I think is nonsense, but other times it is a real challenge to separate my speech impediment from my self-worth.
Speaking publically was a terrifying concept. I held such a fear of public speaking, even talking in class in school. I am sure I held myself back because of my fear of being in front of others where my speech impediment affected me most.
I have found that my stammering is influenced greatly by my circumstances and situations. Such as if I am nervous, stressed, or tired I stammer more frequently. Which has greatly increased during this pandemic.
For those who have no experience of speech disorders, a great way to understand it is by watching the film The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter.
This is the story of King George VI ascending the throne and also preparing the nation for World War II, all while receiving speech therapy to help him overcome his famous stammer.
When I first watched this film, I turned to my family and stated that this is exactly what it’s like. It is a true representation of how the person feels, how they act, how they found ways to navigate their impediment.
Something that many people with speech disorders have to deal with is ‘help’ they receive from others.
When this happens to me, I always try to tell myself that they mean well. They don’t know that it causes me further angst, frustration, and shame.
What ‘help’ am I talking about? When people try and finish the words or sentence for me.
This is a natural thing to do, but sometimes if you give the person a chance, they feel they have retained their dignity by completely the sentence on their own. By taking that option away from them, it breeds a sense of shame and enforces the belief that they shouldn’t communicate in public or among others.
This is a great crib sheet for speaking with someone who has a stutter or speech impediment.
So, I’ve given you insight into what speech disorders are, their impact on the affected person, how they communicate and what awareness is in place.
So, what communication tactics can be used to retain a high level of communication?
- Speak slowly – this can help reduce stress and symptoms of a speech disorder
- Avoid trigger words – I know the words I stutter on start with ‘B’, ‘P’, ‘T’ and ‘S’, so by avoiding these words can reduce my symptoms
- Meditation – this can greatly reduce anxiety and stress, helping to manage stuttering and other speech disorders by keeping calm and relaxed.
Body language is a big part of how I communicate. If I can’t speak correctly, I use my hands and gesture a lot to get my point across.
I use written communication methods if speech is difficult, this includes text messages, email, blog posts, articles. This helps me communicate with others when I feel my stammer is too much. This method allows me to really think about what I intend to say before sending and communicating it.
My mental health has certainly been affected by stammering, but using these techniques has helped a great deal, inside and outside of the workplace.
The key take-aways from this topic is:
- Be patient
- Don’t rush
- Keep calm
If we can take our time to really listen to each other, understand what we are trying to say, even if it takes others a little longer, we’d be more patient with each other and understanding of other people’s circumstances.
I don’t see my speech impediment as a disorder or disability. I see it as a way to really think about things. It gives me the chance to think before I speak. To say what I really want to, to think about others, and learn how to communicate better.
It’s my superpower. Even when sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.
As many have said before, my greatest weakness is also my greatest strength.