Stutterers speak up about treatment they face from others

Two Emirati stutterers took it upon themselves to set up the Stutter with a Smile group to support others with the same condition.

Farah Al Qaissieh and Faisal Al Hammadi are co-founders of Stutter with a Smile. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // There are countless moments etched in Farah Al Qaissieh’s memory when her voice has failed her.

It could be something as simple as a phone conversation that left the Emirati grasping for a word, unable to finish a sentence.

“The best way I can describe it is like you are trying to park a big car in a small space,” she said.

“Although you know you can, you also know you just need a bit more time. It is immensely frustrating.”

Her experiences led the 24-year-old to set up Stutter with a Smile, a support group, with the help of Faisal Al Hammadi, a friend and fellow stutterer.

“We thought that maybe we would start supporting one another, and then we thought there were more people out there who would like that kind of support,” she said.

Ms Al Qaissieh has been stuttering since she was five years old.

“It did have an impact,” she said. “Especially in school, kids were not used to other kids stuttering. Kids being kids, they find something to pick on.”

Certain situations make her speech impediment worse.

“At first it used to be when I spoke in public or as simple as talking on the phone,” she said.

There are certain words she also finds difficult to pronounce.

“But as I say them I try and manoeuvre my way around them or come up with an alternative word.”

A frustration of the speech disorder can be people trying to second-guess what she is trying to say and finish a sentence for her.

“Especially when they try and finish and get it wrong,” she said.

Another gripe growing up was people’s misperceptions about those who stutter. They thought I was slower to get things than the average person,” Ms Al Qaissieh said.

Mr Al Hammadi’s first memory of stuttering was when he was in the third grade at school.

“I had to read out loud in class,” the 29-year-old Emirati said with a wince. “The social pressure of speaking in a group was always a situation in which I would stutter.”

He found that people reacted differently to his stutter.

He believes there is a lack of awareness about stuttering in the UAE.

About 1 per cent of the population stutter, according to The Stuttering Foundation. There are no UAE-specific figures, but Ms Al Qaissieh and Mr Al Hammadi believe there are many residents and citizens who need support.

“I don’t think there is enough support for people in the UAE who have a stutter,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “A support group helps a lot. Knowing that there are people out there who are going through the same thing, it helps.”

The group members share different techniques to overcome a stammer.

“How to stress certain syllables. Breathing helps a lot. There are a lot of things. You have to look at everything out there and pick the one that works for you,” he said.

One of the group’s objectives, aside from being a support system, was to raise awareness in schools, said Ms Al Qaissieh.

“If we are reaching the schools and parents, we are reaching a good audience. At school is when you are exposed to most of the frustration,” she said.

Mr Al Hammadi would like to see a centre opened in the UAE to help those who stutter, and more speech therapists in the country.

About 30 children and adults of various nationalities have joined Stutter with a Smile since its launch in July last year.

“Parents would bring in their kids just so they were able to see other people out there with a stutter,” said Ms Al Qaissieh. “The feedback I got from the parents is that they now can be more comfortable.”

That was what made it all worthwhile, she said. “We would have loved something like this growing up. A place where you can stutter freely without being judged.”

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