22/07/2015 3:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

How TISA Is Fighting To Empower People Who Stammer

Gaurav Dubey is not very different from anyone else you'd meet. Yet there is something a little different about him.

He dreaded the first day of school and of college because standing up and introducing himself was one of the hardest things for him to do. When he began to say his name, the syllables refused to come together and he stumbled through what he had rehearsed in his head. He was afraid of what others would think of him and how he spoke.

When he was twelve, his parents took him to a therapist to work on his speech. She made him read books out loud. It was agonizing for Gaurav, who stumbled over familiar words. He began to hate the way he spoke, and by extension, himself. If only there was someone to talk to him about how he felt instead of pointing out what he could and could not do.

Gaurav stammers. In other words, his speech is characterized by sudden involuntary pauses and a tendency to repeat the initial letters of words. Even though stammering can have harmful psychological and emotional consequences including lack of self-esteem and social anxiety, this speaking disorder is seldom discussed or acknowledged. It is especially shocking how little acceptance there is in India, considering more than 12.5 million Indians stammer. However that could change thanks to an initiative by Speak: Stammering Foundation and The Indian Stammering Association (TISA).

2nd National Conference/Get-together of TISA at Coorg, Bangalore in 2012.

This collaboration has one aim: To create a society that is more accommodating towards those who stammer. In order to do this, they have engineered a year-long intervention for people who stammer (PWS). This program will commence in four stages.

The first stage involves the creation of self-help groups for PWS to meet and work together in order to accept their different way of speaking. Through his involvement with the Mumbai self-help group, Gaurav has progressed from being an introvert to being a leader and role model.

The Mumbai self-help group in session

Speak and TISA volunteers also hope to create and distribute free material regarding stammering to increase awareness in India. The third stage consists of holding social events that promote a culture of guidance and support among PWS. It was at a similar conference that Speak: Stammering Foundation's founder Dhruv Gupta realized how much needed to be done for those who stammer in India.

"Seeing so many people who stammer in one place made me feel that I was not alone. I was so immensely relieved and happy," he says. After unsuccessful attempts with speech therapy at an early age, Dhruv Gupta is convinced that self-help is the best way to go.

"Speech therapy tries to make you fluent. But that doesn't work. Stammering is just another characteristic. It's considered a disorder because society made it a disorder. So everyone goes to an expert to find a cure. Being surrounded by those who have accepted and embraced themselves as people who stammer works best. Organizing and running a self-help group did a lot for me personally."

In addition to resources, self-help groups and social events, TISA and Speak plan to train Speech Language Pathologists to improve therapeutic centers in public hospitals. As a result, Gaurav's hesitance regarding therapy is solved by sessions that are both psychologically and emotionally productive.

Members of the Mumbai self-help group

TISA and Speak's main goals for this intervention is to help Indians accept stammering as a diversity rather than a problem. After all, it is just another individual characteristic such as red hair or green eyes. Dhruv hopes to gain support and funding to help the 12.5 million Indians who stammer, including himself and Gaurav, fight against the stigma of this speaking disorder and showcase their full potential through self-empowerment.

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