Hiten Vyas, 33, from Leicester in UK first realised he had a speech impediment at the age of 10. His teacher asked him a question, and though he knew the answer, he found himself unable to do so despite repeated attempts. Every time he tried to speak, he would stammer.
What followed next was 13 years of an ordeal. Vyas stopped talking altogether for the fear of being laughed at.
He missed out on a normal teenage, missed having girlfriends, shied away from classroom presentations, he was so upset with his speech abnormality that even his selected field of study, computer science, which required minimum public speaking.
“Most of my formative years were spent in anxiety, fear and pain. I was so afraid of being mocked at that I could not share the problem of stammering even with my family. I had learnt to hide my defect by either keeping quiet, or skipping the problem words,” said Vyas, who is now a certified master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and life coach who teaches people the art of self-belief and confidence."When I was doing my PhD it struck me that by shying away from my problem, I was only doing more and more self-harm. I took several rounds of speech and language classes, NLP training and joined online forums for self-help. Failed and lost hope many times but kept going and slowly won my self-worth back," he said.
Vyas now talks almost fluently. He has also written e-books to help people overcome speech defects — which are available on pothi.com.
According to speech therapists at least 1% of all population suffers from some kind of a speech defect. In India, there are at least 12 million people suffering from speech problem.
Such disorders have different causes, and may range from a few speech sound errors or repetitions of sounds or words to a total loss of the ability to use speech to communicate effectively.
“Why it happens is a big question. One doesn’t always have answers to this question, especially in cases of sudden onset of stammering. However, some known causes of speech impediments are hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, mental retardation, autism , physical impairments such as cleft lip, and vocal abuse or misuse,” said Dr Raj Sharma, consultant speech and language therapist at Fortis group of hospitals.
“We are seeing a 2-3-fold increase than the previous decade in the numbers of children coming to us of late,” said Sharma.
He attributes this trend to decreasing interaction between parents and children. “Children get most of their verbal knowledge and skills from television, laptops and radios. It is a reality that in most nuclear set-ups kids are left to the maids — as they are their first point of contact for most part of the day — children acquire their language skills from them,” he said.
Experts however believe that most of the developmental speech defects can be easily corrected with the help of speech therapy.
“Therapy will vary depending on the nature and severity of the problem, the age of the individual, and the individual’s awareness of the problem,” said Dr Mani Bansal, consultant speech therapist at Max group of hospitals.
“In case of physical deformities, team approach is required, which might include surgical intervention followed by therapy,” she said.
In most cases, therapists usually teach patients in breathing and oral exercises, primarily to train them in correct pitch, rate of speech and voice modulation.
“These are the basic interventions especially when working with children, to overcome developmental errors like stammering and lisping,” said Dr Bansal. “With children, we train them the play way, using lots of toys and books as it keeps them occupied and happy and they learn much quicker,” she said.