International Stuttering Awareness Day is observed annually on October 22. Stuttering is a communication disorder in which repetitions — or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables — break the flow of speech. There may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with speaking. International Stuttering Awareness Day shines a helpful spotlight on stutterers and educates the public about the causes.
People make jokes about everything—about blondes, about citizens of every country in the world, about men, women and children and teenagers, about cultures, history and religion, about various human conditions or mindsets…some of them are genuinely funny, and some of them are downright cruel and offensive. In particular, jokes about disabilities can be very mean-spirited and hurtful towards those who have those disabilities as well as their friends and families. And that’s why so many different disability awareness days exist, to help us understand how much harder the lives of the disabled are, even when their disabilities seem relatively minor. Stuttering can pose real problems in both the personal and professional lives of those suffering from it and take years to get under control, not to mention the amount of embarrassment and frustration it can cause in the meantime.
The History of International Stuttering Awareness Day
Stuttering has been the subject of interest of many physicians over the millennia, with one of the most famous stutterers being prominent Ancient Greek statesman and Demosthenes. Demosthenes, who lived in the 4th century BC, could not speak without stuttering and was often mocked by his peers, causing him to become determined to get his condition under control, especially since he was an extremely intelligent man who had plenty to say about Athens’ political situation. One of the tactics he used was to practice speaking loud enough to be heard over the waves with pebbles in his mouth, and after much hard work, he succeeded. Other famous people who have had to deal their stutter include the Roman Emperor Claudius, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, and James Earl Jones, whose voice the world knows as that of Darth Vader himself.
In ancient and medieval times, herbal remedies were often recommended for stuttering, as was drinking water from a snail shell, and the most superstitious believed that the condition could be caused by tickling an infant too much or allowing it to look at itself in the mirror. In the 18th and 19th centuries, different kinds of dangerous surgeries were prescribed to help correct a stutterer’s speech, from making small incisions in the tongue or lips to removing the tonsils, none of which were effective. Nowadays, various kinds of fluency shaping therapy are prescribed that help the stutterer exercise more control over his or her lips, jaw and tongue. Simply decreasing a stutterer’s stress and anxiety levels has also been shown to greatly improve speech. As a last resort, several types of medication can also be prescribed, though their effectiveness seems to be quite limited and a number of side effects great.
How to Celebrate International Stuttering Awareness Day
The best way to celebrate this way is to read up on some talented and influential individuals who have had to deal with a stutter, and how much work they did to overcome it. If you’re in the mood for a movie, “The King’s Speech” is an Oscar-winning historical drama about King George VI of England and his speech and language therapist, Lionel Logue, who worked together tirelessly to finally beat his disability. If you have children, this day is the perfect time to talk to them a bit about the lives and struggles of thus and otherwise disabled classmates who struggle with their conditions every day. You can also consider making a donation to the International Stuttering Association to help them help those who can’t afford treatment improve their lives.
History of International Stuttering Awareness Day
Established in 1998, International Stuttering Awareness Day brings attention to the millions of people around the world living with this specific communication disorder. Usually when people refer to stuttering, they imagine the repetition of a specific word; however stuttering comes in many other forms, including elongation of a vowel or syllable. This condition is also variable, meaning that the severity of the stutter is inconsistent. Some days a person might only stutter a few times while others the stutter may affect most of their interactions.
Stuttering has been around longer than people have been able to record their interactions involving the condition, but a lack of understanding for the disorder resulted in years of unfair treatment. Passages in the Bible are written to indicate that Moses spoke with a stammer. Claudius, who would later become a Roman emperor, was originally shunned and excluded from public office because people believed that stuttering was a sign of unintelligence.
In 19 century Europe, surgery was recommended for people impacted by the speech disorder. Surgeons would use scissors to remove a triangular wedge from the back of the tongue, as well as cutting nerves and muscles in the neck and lips. Other surgeons practiced shorting the uvula or removing the tonsils. These practices were later abandoned as patients were bleeding to death, and those who survived still had their stutter.
Though it is now understood that stuttering is a neurological disorder that can be developmental (obtained as a child) or acquired (developed as an adult due to trauma or drug abuse), there is still an air of stigma that follows those who live with it. This International Stuttering Awareness Day, take the time to learn about the 1% of humanity affected and what you can do to help others stay educated on the condition.