For almost 45 years, Satyendra Srivastava’s happiness hinged on the number of words he stammered, or did not, in a day. He celebrated days that would pass without him stammering a single word, and was hard on himself when his speech faltered. When Srivastava, a physician and social worker in India, found his spiritual calling, he realised that as a person he was much more than just his speech. He poured his thoughts into a blog in 2008, which later snowballed into a nationwide community that became The Indian Stammering Association (Tisa). Tisa – made up of self-help groups, online courses, daily virtual meetings, counselling, communication workshops and more – has more than 4,000 active members. The confidence they gain from being part of the community has not just helped them improve their communication, but has also trickled down to other areas of their life. For International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22, Srivastava draws from years of his own research and the collective experience of Tisa members to offer tips for people who stutter – there are 70 million worldwide – that go beyond speech therapy and aim at well-being. Acceptance sets you free Far too many people who stutter try to hide it. They withdraw and avoid talking in gatherings or even making friends. But, Srivastava says, that can stifle your emotions and affect everything you do. Accepting your stammer and being open about it can be liberating, he says. Face your emotions; do not bury them. Let go of the shame attached to stuttering and see your life change. To achieve this, begin by writing a journal or talking about it with people you trust. What is stuttering? A guide to the different types Focus on communication, not fluency Once you have accepted that you stammer, you can work on living well with it. While there are ways to learn to be fluent, complete fluency may not be attainable for everyone. Therefore, do not make that the purpose of your speech. “Try effective communication instead, by focusing on putting across your point well,” says Srivastava. Remember, fluency is aesthetic and communication is the functional part of speech. Find a community Talking about your experiences is crucial, especially if you have felt alone and isolated because you lack the company of another person who stammers. Joining a support or self-help group can help you meet much-needed friends. Share those painful moments of being bullied in school or the time when your girlfriend laughed because you could not buy her chocolate due to your block on the “ch” syllable. “Only another person who stutters can convince you that your experiences are not unusual and certainly not your fault,” Srivastava says. Draw attention to your secondary behaviour During moments of stress, when a person is struggling to speak fluently and trips on a word, she or he may also blink quickly, tilt or jerk their head, frown, or have a facial twitch. “To understand this unconscious secondary behaviour, record videos of yourself talking in different situations,” says Srivastava. Often, awareness is enough to stop that behaviour within days. Sometimes, exaggerating the behaviour helps. For example, to stop blinking as a secondary behaviour, read in front of a mirror while blinking quickly at first, then more slowly after two minutes, and then without blinking for as long as you can hold. Finally, repeat a few sentences with your eyes closed. Practising for 10 minutes at a time over a few days will bring your attention to your blinking when you stammer, making it easier to control. Ask questions to check attitudes Talk about stammering with people you trust. Ask them what they think could be the cause or whether they would hire someone who stammers. The exercise is not to educate people – at least not immediately – but to rise above your own embarrassment of stammering by talking about it objectively to people outside the community. Does speaking in public make you faint? Five tips to beat your nerves Be honest in relationships Always be upfront about your stammer with a potential partner, but do not make it out to be a sin, Srivastava says. “Talk about it just as something you do, sometimes.” Just as you expect your partner to accept your diversity, be open to theirs, too. “If some people are uncomfortable with your stammering, take it well and move on.” Relive upsetting moments Record a video of yourself talking about the uncomfortable incidents related to stammering that have always haunted you. Was there a group of kids that bullied you in school? An employer who ridiculed you? In-laws who questioned your stammer? Talk about the pain and frustration, and share the recording with a buddy or a handful of people from your self-help group and listen to their response. During such discussions, you are likely to discover alternative ways of looking at your problem and reframing it, Srivastava explains. “As you recover emotionally, you’ll become free of self-pity, anger and sadness.” Some day, you will genuinely be able to laugh about these things. Patience is key for interviewers Stress can trigger stuttering, so people who stammer often find it becomes worse during school or interviews. Someone who stammers a lot during an interview may not do so on a regular day. Srivastava advises interviewers to keep calm, be friendly and patient. “People who stutter don’t need a glass of water, just a few extra seconds to explain themselves,” he says. “Don’t interrupt; slow down and seek clarification if required.” Hirers should consider giving them an option of writing responses, too. Make them feel comfortable and follow their pace to get the best out of them. Teachers, be thoughtful and kind “Don’t talk for a child who stutters, or finish their thoughts and statements,” says Srivastava. Praise what they say, not how they say it. Kids who stutter are able to read comfortably with other children, so if you have one in your classroom, let everyone read in pairs or small groups. If the child consents, talk to the entire class about stuttering and appropriate behaviour.