I first heard of Patrick Lugendo from a colleague who mentioned about his stammering disorder and how it torments him on a daily basis.
People who stammer often face difficulty speaking with uncontrollable pauses and repetition of words.
Eventually, I had my first interaction with the 23-year-old through a phone chat last week on Tuesday.
I called him to arrange for an interview. After introducing myself and my intentions for meeting him, I similarly gave him audience.
“My…name…is…Patrick…Lugendo. Where…should…we…meet?” he responded with an extreme stutter.
It took him close to three minutes to give a response.
We agreed to meet in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb.
Lugendo arrived at the agreed location smartly dressed in a short sleeved stripped shirt, a pair of maroon trousers and a black pair of sneakers. His black hair was neatly combed into a box shape. After taking our seats, I proceeded to ask him which mode of communication was most effective for him.
“I prefer to talk. I am only requesting that you be patient as I speak,” he said, stammering.
“Talking enables me to easily let out my thoughts and be more confident. If I need to stress any point, I will probably write it down for you,” he added.
Our conversation continued with me asking questions and then letting him take time answering.
Lugendo has been stammering since childhood. His speech disorder is the one thing that made him different from other children.
“My mother (Catherine Nabisere) says I stammered over my first word. She realised I had a problem at 18 months and by the age of three, my tongue tangled over every syllable,” he says.
Despite noticing the problem, his family did not seek any medical attention. In fact, Lugendo says as much as his family members knew his condition, they hardly talked about it. It was later on in primary school that he came to realise he was different from other children and stopped talking.
“I had the urge to speak but my mouth let me down. As a result, I started avoiding conversations,” he says, adding: “In class, teachers used to punish me thinking I was dodging to answer questions like other pupils. This, however, stopped when Nabisere told the teachers about her son’s condition.
Lugendo completed Primary Seven at Goodwill Preparatory School, Kampala in 2007 before joining Madhvani College in Jinja where he completed Senior Four in 2011. Later, Lugendo joined St. Peters Senior Secondary School, Nsambya where he finished Senior Six in 2013. In December, he will graduate with a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science Technology and Management from Kyambogo University.
It was at Madhvani College that he was subjected to extreme bullying from classmates who often made fun of the way he talked. “I will never forget my first day in Senior One. A teacher requested us to introduce ourselves and when it was my turn, I struggled with words and my classmates burst into laughter,” he says.
Overcome with emotion, Lugendo broke down into tears. Later, he was forced to share his predicament with the school teachers. Most of them understood and exempted him from answering questions in class. In some cases, the teachers would let him respond by writing the answer on the blackboard.
The bullying from some classmates and other students did not stop. Many times, Lugendo wished he could wake up one morning and speak normally like everyone else. “Inside my head, my voice is clear and loud but whenever I open my mouth, every word becomes stuck on the tip of my tongue, unable to escape,” he says. “I am always happy but my lack of speech shatters my confidence.”
Lugendo is afraid of talking on phone and meeting new people. “I get embarrassed whenever I am explaining myself to people. And because I take time to say words, some people give me a mean look while others rush to ask what’s wrong with me. Others are impatient and always leave without me explaining myseld,” he says.
One time he recalls stopping a bodaboda rider and trying hard to give him directions to his destination.
“When he saw my trembling lips and eyes closed, he just rode off,” he says.
What he is doing about the disorder…
During his second year at university, Lugendo registered online as a member of the British Stammering Association, an organisation thatpromotes awareness of stammering, offers advice, information and support to all whose lives are affected by stammering, initiates and supports research into stammering and identifies and promotes effective therapies. The organisation sent him a self-therapy text book with information on overcoming his disorder.
“The book has useful text on different aspects including the importance of admitting that one is a stammerer and how they can communicate to other people,” he says.
By coming out to share his story, Lugendo hopes to raise awareness about stammering especially on the misunderstanding and stigma surrounding it.
What you need to know about stammering?
Daniel Sseremba, a speech and language therapist volunteering at Mukisa Foundation, a prevention and rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities says:-
“Stammering can be referred to as a speech disorder where one does not talk fluently. They may take a prolonged amount of time mentioning particular words or sounds. The causes of stammering vary from one individual to another. Some people stammer because of the wiring of their brain, traumatic brain injuries, personality, influence from their environment, among other reasons. Others stammer because of limited confidence in expressing themselves. In some cases, some people may have an extreme stammering disorder than others whose situation may be mild. It is always important that stammerers mention their disorder to others so that they are not easily ignored. Whenever you get to know that a person stammers, always be patient and understanding towards them. And once they start to speak, they should not be interrupted as this often frustrates and annoys them. To stammerers, you can always visit speech and language therapists for professional help as well as read literary material on overcoming the disorder.”