ABU DHABI // Awareness of stammering is so low that some adults who have the condition do not realise it and parents can overlook it in their children.
Speech and language therapists have spoken out to show that help is available.
“People generally do not know what a stammer is. They have never heard of it,” said Lucy Strawford, a speech and language therapist who works with adults at Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai.
“They don’t have that kind of general information about stammering, so they might not know that they have a stammer.
“They might just think, ‘Oh, I just stumble on my words’, and they don’t really appreciate that there is something that could help them.”
Miss Strawford, a Briton who believes there is a global stigma attached to the condition, said there should be greater awareness worldwide.
“The worst thing you can do is finish off sentences, or cut in, or ignore the person, or not be patient,” she said.
“I don’t think we live in a very stammer-friendly world. I don’t think people have time on the phone or have time, generally, to wait for somebody to get words out, unfortunately.”
Stammering, also known as stuttering, can involve repeating sounds or syllables, pausing and prolonging sounds.
It is normally developed as a child and continues into adulthood but it can also be acquired through trauma or neurological conditions.
Treatment includes therapy focusing on speech techniques. Cognitive and emotional therapy can also be used.
The greater the delay in diagnosing the condition, the more complex it is to treat. A stammer can even cause some people to change their behaviour.
The focus on the subject coincides with International Stammering Awareness Day, which was marked across the world last week.
“It’s quite related to an anxiety-related disorder, so you can become quite fearful of stammering. If you start to become very fearful, you suddenly get a lot of avoidance,” said Miss Strawford.
“People will start avoiding certain words because they are afraid to stammer on certain sounds. They also start avoiding speaking situations generally. They will stop using the phone. If they go out for a meal with friends, they will ask their friends to order for them. They will start to email and text, rather than phone and, suddenly, it becomes this very central part of their entire lifestyle.”
While some people need treatment, others do not want it, as they believe the condition is not having a major effect on their life. Some parents overlook the condition in their children.
“People might often think it will go away, ‘just don’t mention it’, and it often becomes a bit of a taboo topic,” said Natalie Boatwright, a paediatric speech and language therapist based at Little Smarties Nursery in Abu Dhabi.
She said seeking professional help early is important.
“Mainly because the longer a child stammers for, the stammer is more likely to persist into adulthood,” Mrs Boatwright said.
“It’s difficult to say which children need therapy and which children will actually grow out of it. It is better to treat all children with a stammer early.”
It is normal for a child to stammer a bit when they first start speaking, she said, but if there is no sign of it decreasing after six months parents should seek advice from a speech and language therapist.
“There is a higher chance of removing the stammer or reducing it if it’s picked up early,” she said.
The condition can also affect a child’s social well-being, with bullying and confidence issues common.
According to the British Stammering Association, it is widely accepted that five per cent of children under the age of five will go through a phase of stammering.
Without intervention up to a quarter of them are at serious risk of developing chronic stammering, which may persist into adulthood. One per cent of the adult population stammers, according to the association.