Living with Speech Difficulties
Speech difficulties range from the relatively well-known (stuttering) to those that are less so (apraxia, aphasia and more). Most speech difficulties result from either an inability to say specific sounds, or problems with vocal quality that makes speaking hard, while speech-language difficulties include improper usage of words and inappropriate grammar, among other things. The causes of many speech difficulties remain unknown, but there is much that those who suffer from speech difficulties can do to live successfully with their obstacles.
RelaxWhile it’s not necessarily the case that stress causes speech difficulties, existing difficulties can certainly be exacerbated by an increase in stress. For example, those who stutter may find that the problem becomes worse when they are nervous about speaking in front of a crowd.
To avoid such a situation, it is important that those who suffer from speech difficulties remain focused and relaxed in the face of stressful situations. Taking time alone, listening to soothing music, chatting with good friends and even leaving the location entirely by taking a walk or indulging in a bath can all be means by which stress levels are lowered.
Explain the Situation to OthersSpeech difficulties make communication difficult and strangers may find this confusing or frustrating to the point that they become impatient. If possible, those who suffer from speech difficulties should consider explaining their particular situation to those they will be spending time with, such as new classmates or co-workers.
If a long explanation is impossible, handouts about the difficulty may help or having someone (a parent or sibling, for example) speak instead could be another option. At no time should the explanation apologise for the difficulty, but simply explain what it is and what it means for social interactions.
Look After the VoiceEven those committed to utterly healthy lifestyles often forget to look after their voices. For individuals with speech difficulties, doing just that is doubly important. Drinking the recommended eight glasses of water each day, avoiding cigarette smoke, using a humidifier in dry rooms and avoiding spicy foods are all easy ways to help any voice sound its best. Limiting caffeine, following a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise will also help look after the voice, as will getting enough rest, avoiding yelling and screaming and using musical voice warm-ups as needed.
Any warning signs of a damaged voice, such as a sore throat or scratchy throat, hoarse voice or even a loss of the voice should all be taken seriously. If any of these signs occur, a trip to the GP may be advisable and a commitment to a healthier lifestyle should be made.
Seek Professional SupportSpeech and language therapists exist to help those with communication difficulties, and can be accessed either directly or via a referral to the NHS. These therapists will help design a specific programme to address existing speech difficulties, usually via consistent therapy sessions.
Many organisations also exist to support individuals with speech difficulties, including the British Stammering Association (www.stammering.org). Individuals with speech difficulties should not be shy about looking for further support – it just might change their lives.