TORONTO, ON, Jan 22, 2014/ Troy Media/ – I’ve always had a stutter – that has never changed. But my attitude surrounding my stuttering has changed. Nowadays, I’m open about my stuttering. In some ways, I’m even proud of it. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Stuttering, the involuntary disruption of speech, typically manifests itself in three ways: repetitions, which is when you can’t help but repeat a specific sound, prolongations, when you’re stuck on one sound, and blocks, when words don’t come out at all.
My stuttering usually manifests itself in repetitions or prolongations. “My name is S-S-S-S-Samuel” or “Hhhhhello, hhhhow are you?”
While growing up, my speech was a source of anxiety and embarrassment for me in many social situations, whether it was introducing myself in class, participating in group discussions or simply ordering food at a restaurant.
Among the issues I was dealing with while growing up, such as puberty and acne, the last thing I needed was to talk funny.
But I wasn’t alone. According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, about 68 million people worldwide stutter. That’s about one per cent of the global population.
Within Canada, about 350,000 people stutter, notes the Canadian Stuttering Association (CSA).
Furthermore, the Foundation reports that stuttering affects four times as many men than women.
A 2011 study by American researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explored differences in brain connections to explain the gender gap in stuttering.
The researchers created brain maps of 18 stuttering and 14 non-stuttering volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which shows brain areas active during speech, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which focuses on connections between brain regions.
Overall, the study found that stutterers have fewer connections between the motor planning and execution areas in the left hemisphere of their brains – and more connections between the right and left hemispheres – compared with people who don’t stutter. The women who stuttered had greater connectivity between the motor and sensory regions in both hemispheres than their male counterparts.
Research aside, stuttering may be perceived as a sign of weakness. This is at odds with the “macho” male stereotype. Society expects us to behave in certain ways. For instance, men are expected to make the first move in the dating game. This can be a problem among guys who stutter if we have trouble expressing ourselves or we avoid social situations.
In the past, I’ve avoided plenty of situations. Picking up telephone used to be kryptonite for me. And, although I had supportive teachers, class participation was an issue for me.
As a teenager, I was incredibly shy. But I was shy because I stuttered; not the other way around. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone else who stuttered.
Then, in the summer of 2011, I ventured to Fort Worth, Texas for the National Stuttering Association (NSA)’s annual conference, an event that changed both how I perceived my stuttering and my life overall.
It was my first time attending, and the hotel was filled with 800 conference attendees, including folks who stutter, their loved ones and speech-language pathologists.
The King’s Speech was released just a few months before I attended the conference, so, public discourse about stuttering was really beginning to open up at this time.
However, it was attending the conference that truly put me on the path to embrace my stuttering. It marked the first time I met anyone else who stuttered. “So that’s what I sound like,” I immediately recalled. It was desensitizing to hear other people stutter openly.
Additionally, it was encouraging to meet so many people who have thrived despite their speech issues. I met actors who stutter, folks who stutter who have gotten married and had kids, and some who decided to use their experiences to become speech-language pathologists and help others with similar issues (which appears to be a trend in the stuttering world).
Now, in addition to being active in the stuttering community (including serving on the CSA’s board of directors), I talk to friends and family openly about my stuttering. I’ve disclosed my stuttering in job interviews. I’ve even cracked jokes as a way to make light of it.
I still stutter but instead of considering it a source of embarrassment, I’ve decided to consider it a blessing in disguise. It allows me to be a part of a community of some of the most inspiring people. It makes me more compassionate towards other people’s issues. Plus, stuttering gives me the opportunity to improve myself and rise when faced with challenges.
Do I consider my stuttering a weakness or something that makes me less of a man? Actually, I think it makes me more of a man.
Troy Media columnist Samuel Dunsiger writes a weekly column on men’s health.
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