About the Author:
My name is Ismail Wafaa Denwar. I am Ghanaian and an IT Officer by profession. I have stuttered since I was a child; I started speaking when I turned four and a half years old. Stuttering has taken its toll on me over the years; however, as an ambitious young man, I am aware it will take efforts to overcome stuttering. So far, I am able to speak fluently when there is a need for me to speak, such as in interviews and presentations. Practicing has helped. However, on a regular day, I stutter.
I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at Valley View University, Accra, Ghana, from 2013 to 2017. I proceeded to the University of Ghana, which led to an award of a Master of Science in Computer Science degree from 2019 to 2020, running concurrently with my job.
Academically, I am currently assisting in publishing research papers concurrently with my job as an IT Officer. I have co-authored some papers so far. I also serve as a peer reviewer for a journal (volunteering). I have a strong passion for research and am looking forward to doing a Ph.D. (Computing) in the future despite my stutter. It is the reason I stutter that makes me highly motivated to keep moving; that is how I thrive.
For persons who stutter (PWS), speaking has always been a daunting task. Coping with stuttering and making efforts has been a hurdle only a few have overcome dauntlessly to achieve fluency. The few who are unable to jump over the hurdle of disfluency are beaten with fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness, self-doubt, self-rejection, and all other loads of negativity weighing them down and their self-esteem.
Growing up, stuttering has been a huge part of my life; it shook my confidence from reading aloud in class when called upon, learning to speak multiple languages, running for leadership roles, and public speaking. My inability to express myself fluently left me feeling handicapped; I was seen as not good enough and dull for those who didn’t know because I wasn’t engaging or participating in a lot of activities that would demand some speaking. I often kept to myself; I was aware of their perception, and I was aware of my frustration of not flowing as I should. I found peace in silence, which may have indirectly triggered my introversion over the years. I stuttered covertly; I was good at swapping words causing blocks with those I could easily say just to conform and not feel different. I managed to hide it for long, and it has been exhausting; I felt I would be seen differently, I didn’t want to be treated as a person with a disability, my pride wouldn’t let me open up. I also realized a lot of people were not good listeners and were judgmental (looks, stature, popularity, finances, academic performance, and so on), so for me, hiding it was the right thing to do.
According to Boyle, Beita-Ell, Milewski, & Fearon (2018), self-esteem refers to an individual’s assessment of self-regard, self-worth, and self-competence that is stable and relatively invariable over time and across contexts. Research has also shown that increased self-esteem is significantly associated with reduced feelings of self-stigma among adults who stutter. Therefore, it could be the case that higher self-esteem is a protective factor in a person’s willingness to communicate and might therefore be linked to communicative participation. Another component that is likely to predict communicative involvement in PWS is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as a person’s belief in one’s own ability to complete a specific task or habit successfully. In PWS, self-efficacy may provide some protection against the widespread consequences of chronic stuttering.
Stuttering is a highly personal and complex disorder that affects 5% of children and 1% of adults around the world. The most frequent type of stuttering, developmental stuttering, begins between the ages of two and four. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the many distinct brain systems involved in speech production. There is mounting evidence that stuttering has a hereditary component (Everard & Howell, 2018). However, in overcoming stuttering, it is not merely the absence of disfluency; rate, breath stream management, prosody, and self-confidence appear to be additional components that are necessary and sufficient to create regular speech flow (Perkins, 2016).
The turning point in my life was undergraduate. There are often presentations, from group presentations to the thesis defense. There was nowhere to run; I just had to develop confidence and make adjustments where needed, or I wouldn’t grow academically and professionally. Everything required speaking; hence there was the need to break free from the shackles of fear and discomfort. At that point, weakness or anything negative wasn’t an option. I realized that to see changes, I had to change my ways. I had to start doing uncomfortable things, which meant opening up; I started to do the opposite (extroversion). After school, when I started working, I learned to be professional in handling issues. I spoke on the phone and in person to workers from various departments. My job as an IT Officer allowed me to become more vocal. I still stutter, but the slight adjustments in my life have made a huge difference. I opened up to some of my colleagues about my stutter, which has been quite liberating. The relief of people knowing about one’s stutter can change things. My MSc research supervisor was aware I was a PWS, and before my thesis defense, he informed his colleagues to give me more time; during the presentation, I expressed myself confidently and answered all the questions posed; I owned my work, I finished my presentation earlier. It felt good. Aside from the speech preparations, PWS must inform those around them, colleagues at work, school, and even their significant others, about their stuttering to ease the pressure. Boyle & Gabel (2020) state that individuals with disabilities have reported on the benefits of disclosing or being open about their condition as a way to reduce feelings of stigma and increase social support.
Previous research investigations have found that PWS experience much higher worry and distress levels than fluent individuals (Boyle et al., 2018). For the individual who stutters, the experience of stuttering may entail unpleasant affective, behavioral, and cognitive reactions from both the speaker who stutters and the surroundings. This event may also result in severe limitations in the individual’s capacity to participate in daily activities, as well as a detrimental impact on the individual’s overall quality of life (Klompas & Ross, 2004). I studied my patterns, and confidence was a recipe for fluency. I interviewed at a company, and the first question was, tell me about yourself? I had practiced for this question weeks before the interview; I did not have to tell the interviewer I was a PWS because I was fluid, I was confident, I spoke the change I wanted to see. If PWS wants to see change, they have to practice and rehearse like they were in an acting school; this has worked for me in my thesis defense, job interviews, among others.
Stuttering is a condition that has conditioned the mind to have certain tendencies; the couvert and ouvert idiosyncrasies of stuttering are what we must be aware of to improve, to speak the change we want to see; it takes effort to overcome, to overcome we must take charge of our speech, and a starting point is to start being confident and aware of the intricacies. It would be recounted that Joe Biden, the 47th vice president of the United States of America, is a PWS and was running for president in the 2020 election regardless of the impediment. He often practiced in a mirror before delivering his speech, which is an indication that practicing before any event or occasion can be helpful. He is president of the United States of America as PWS, which is excellent news for the stuttering community; there is hope. If the world is big enough to accommodate us all, it is certainly bigger than the negative voices on our minds; there is room for growth. It is okay to stutter. We cannot predict the words we say every day due to the capricious nature of stuttering, but it is worth making an intentional effort to speak, an effort that will eventually speak the change we wish to see.
Boyle, M. P., Beita-Ell, C., Milewski, K. M., & Fearon, A. N. (2018). Self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social support as predictors of communicative participation in adults who stutter. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61(8), 1893–1906. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_JSLHR-S-17-0443
Boyle, M. P., & Gabel, R. M. (2020). “Openness and progress with communication and confidence have all gone hand in hand”: Reflections on the experience of transitioning between concealment and openness among adults who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 65(March), 105781. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfludis.2020.105781
Everard, R. A., & Howell, P. (2018). We have a voice: Exploring participants’ experiences of stuttering modification therapy. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1273–1286. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_AJSLP-ODC11-17-0198
Klompas, M., & Ross, E. (2004). Life experiences of people who stutter, and the perceived impact of stuttering on quality of life: Personal accounts of South African individuals. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 29(4), 275–305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfludis.2004.10.001
Perkins, W. H. (1973). Replacement of stuttering with normal speech: II. Clinical procedures. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 38(3), 295-303. doi:10.1044/jshd.3803.295
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