Friday, August 27, 2010

Stuttering in later life


Having reached the ripe old age of sixty a few months ago I thought it a good idea to share my reflections on stuttering in middle age and beyond, as it seems that so little is being said and written on this subject.

With stuttering, the focus is to a large extent on children and teens who stutter, with secondary attention given to adults. Reasons for this, of course, are that more children than adults stutter; and that in early life the chances of recovery are so much better, whereas for the older stutterer the emphasis is on management rather than cure. It therefore comes as no surprise that stuttering after the age of 60 has received little attention.

Stuttering is in a sense a childhood problem, with about 3/4 of all stuttering children fortunately outgrowing it. For the unlucky teens and 20-somethings who have not outgrown it the disorder usually impacts on their social as well as educational or occupational life. This is the time when two major needs present themselves: (1) finding a suitable mate; and (2) training toward and finding the best possible job. Stuttering can considerably frustrate both these needs.

The years can bring better fluency

In later life, however, the social and occupational areas of life look very different from when young. By this time most of us have found a significant other who has accepted our disfluency; we may be parents or even grandparents (of children who hopefully do not stutter); or, not having found – or having lost – a soul mate, may have discovered that being single also has its benefits. No longer is there the overriding need to be accepted as you are by peers, friends and the broader community; at this age you probably already have a few friends with whom you feel comfortable and who share your values.

Occupation-wise, retirement is no longer the far-off event it once was; and some of us may already be enjoying this long-awaited leisure time – or struggling to make ends meet on inadequate pensions. If you’re still working, you may have achieved a position of seniority and authority, thereby increasing confidence and improving your fluency. Even if you are not the boss, having a few grey hairs tends to earn respect from colleagues – most of whom are younger than yourself – who have, by this time, probably also become used to your way of speaking, which also helps.

Psychologically you’ve probably left behind some or all of your youthful insecurities which contributed to your high tension levels and related stuttering. You know so much more about life, people and yourself, and this huge knowledge base has helped you cope not only with stress and stuttering, but with sorting out, understanding, accepting and making sense of so many things that in the past made your life miserable.

Comfort zones are good for you!

You’ve also probably found nice, safe comfort zones where you can enjoy life without the hassles, ambitions and conflicts of youth. Don’t let the hyperactive ‘shakers and movers’ make you feel guilty about enjoying your comfort zones. These zones have a role to play in managing stress, and they are important for people who stutter. I take issue with people who deride comfort zones as complacency, to be broken out of at all costs. All things can be taken to an extreme and in this sense comfort zones CAN be detrimental if over-emphasised; but having a few enjoyable zones of comfort is absolutely necessary for mental health.

Last but not least - as you age you will probably find that stuttering is no longer the primary health issue affecting your life. High blood pressure, excessive cholesterol and other age-related ailments can present themselves, so that stuttering becomes part of a much wider health spectrum that needs to be managed.

People age differently and the above may or may not apply to you. I hope, however, that these reflections give an indication of what to expect and hope for as you get older. For me, the role of stuttering has diminished through the years to become a relatively minor part of the colourful tapestry that is life.

1 comment:

  1. I just found this post.Thank you. I have always had a speech problem.Speech pathologists did little for me in school.I had a new boss tease me about my stuttering.Though it hurt,I laughed it off.He was an odd duck himself and got closer to me.He couldn't understand why people were teasing him.I toild him.I think it had to sink in what he was doing to me.Anyways.we became friends