by Kerry Tinga (Manila Bulletin)
Communication is key, individuals and families use the enhanced community quarantine to address speech difficulties through UP’s USAP Tayo! initiative
“It feels like a curse,” said Gabriel, a recent graduate now working in his family’s business.
While we are all required to stay home under quarantine, we are all experiencing it differently. In these past few weeks that have turned into months, we are alone with our thoughts for much longer than we are used to, alone to center in on things about ourselves that we wish we could ignore. It can sometimes feel like there are few positive distractions, and the rise of mental health concerns is troubling.
“In the beginning, I hated myself for not being able to control my speech muscles the way I wanted to,” Gabriel wrote in an e-mail. “Being a stutterer is hard. You think that if you were not one [a stutterer] you could be something greater than you are now. But it is [actually] those thoughts that hinder me from achieving the real thing.”
Sometimes described as an invisible disorder, a stutter or stammer is a speech impediment that disrupts the flow of speech with involuntary repetitions of sounds. More than just disrupt the flow of speech, it can damage the self-confidence of an individual and increase the likelihood of the development of anxiety.
And while during quarantine we may not engage in as much dialogue as we would in our pre-quarantine lives, what we do need to communicate, our thoughts and hopes and fears, are immensely important. Many of us can easily express ourselves, maybe even feel just a bit better after we let it all out. But imagine if someone were to interrupt you before you said what you had to say? Imagine if you involuntarily interrupt your own self, unable to get what you need to say out? The increased anxiety and stress from the current situation could even exacerbate the speech impediment.
“Communication is important and necessary. People tend to underestimate the importance of communication because it comes easily to most of us. But difficulties communicating brings about frustration and can even strain relationships,” said Michael Valdez, Speech Pathology Chair at the College of Allied Medical Professions (CAMP) at University of the Philippines (UP) Manila. “The need for communicating is also highlighted as everyone is experiencing constant change during this time. It is crucial to establish an understanding of the situation and the changes it brings about to our daily lives. People with communication difficulties tend to feel more left out and confused in times like this.”
Rooted in the College’s core values of public service and resourcefulness, the USAP Tayo! initiative of the Speech Pathology Department seeks to address the needs of individuals with communication difficulties through remote speech pathology services. This includes drafting instructions, exercises, and programs for families and individuals to go through at home, as well as some video conferencing in some cases. The free consultation service helps individuals and families manage communication difficulties during the crisis, a need that was readily apparent.
When registration opened for USAP Tayo!, Valdez and the rest of his colleagues were pleasantly surprised to see how many students expressed interest in volunteering.
“As an educator, it really is heartwarming to see our students in action,” added Valdez. “They are showing that they are more than ready to serve the Filipino people. It fills our hearts with joy and gratitude. What more can we ask for?”
The day classes were suspended for all levels around the National Capital Region, fourth-year speech pathology student Kyla Espiritu returned home to Rizal. “But praise God for technology, the Internet, and this opportunity, as doors were opened to serve the people even in small ways that we can and even if we are not in Manila,” she said. “I have been very grateful for the experience. […] The work we are doing answers to a need that is currently there and helps, even in the slightest way possible, to lift some burdens off of patients […] to help them relay their wants or needs.”
Before the quarantine, Gabriel tried to do some self-therapy with breathing exercises and strategies. Although a stressful period for everybody, he took the enhanced community quarantine as an opportunity to focus on himself. Through a stuttering group that he was part of, Gabriel discovered USAP Tayo! and through it learned techniques that he found greatly aided him in overcoming the impediment.
“I am always thinking, every day I have to focus on my abilities, not the difficulties,” Gabriel added. “I continue to work on myself. Someday I wish to help my fellow stutterers, to overcome these challenges and to get them out of their shells.”