I am a teacher at a school of special education in Osaka Prefecture, Japan and I am also involved in the activities of the Japan Stuttering Project including summer camps for children who stutter and their parents.
The January 28th edition of the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, included the tragic story of a young Japanese man who committed suicide because of issues related to his stuttering. I was one of many people who responded to the news by speaking of the urgent need for an increased public awareness of stuttering. I felt so strongly that I wrote an article about it that was published by the Asahi Shimbun on March 10th.
Many people have been expressing the opinion that people should wait until a person who stutters finishes saying what he/she has to say and that school teachers should not force students who stutter to speak up or read aloud in class, as a way to show consideration for their situation. Though they are well intentioned, it seems to me that such responses show a lack of understanding about the nature of stuttering. I am rather concerned that such attitudes might actually end up promoting excessive concern and consideration for or even prejudice against us as people who stutter.
Experts agree that about one percent of the world’s population stutters. This means that there are a large number of people in the world who are experiencing inconveniences due to difficulties in uttering words, facing challenges carrying on daily conversations and fulfilling responsibilities at work.
However, thoughts about stuttering seem to differ from one person to the next. Some want the person with whom they are engaging in conversation to wait until they finish saying what they have to say, even when they cannot say a word. Others, in contrast, do not want them to wait. Some of those who stutter find it difficult to speak in public while others actually enjoy talking in public.
We do not expect non-stuttering people to give us special consideration based on their presumptions or vague knowledge about stuttering. We are hoping to build relationships in which people who stutter and those who do not can communicate with each other openly.
It is a complete misunderstanding to think that being able to speak fluently is the best form of communication. I believe that most people who stutter have learned that many people listen to what we say about our experiences, dreams and hopes, even if we speak haltingly and awkwardly and they have to use their imagination in trying to understand us. We have learned this through the difficulties we face in various situations, such as sitting for job interviews, business negotiations, making presentations, proposing to a loved one, etc.
The most serious issue surrounding stuttering is not stuttering itself. It is rooted in our negative thoughts, behaviors and emotions, which compel us to avoid situations where we might have to speak, because many people who stutter think stuttering is bad or inferior and have become afraid of stuttering. There is no complete cure for stuttering, but there are many approaches and methods for dealing with our thoughts and behaviors and modifying them, such as rational-emotive therapy, cognitive therapy, assertiveness training, and the narrative approach.
We can resolve many issues arising from stuttering if we accept ourselves as people who stutter and if we openly state what we wish to say or must say in our own words, even if we wish to avoid stuttering and feel ashamed of it.
There are an increasing number of people in our group who do not stutter but are concerned with stuttering who find our approaches to stuttering meaningful for their own issues and personal growth, as our programs focus on other things rather than working directly on our speech. Thus, stuttering can be a shared theme to live fully, not just for people who stutter but also for those who do not. I hope there will be more such people who come to take an interest in the world of stuttering, and that we can learn from each other.
(Translation by Kazue Shinji)
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