Achilleas Souras’ stutter doesn’t hold him back anymore.
The 17-year-old student, who was born in London and currently lives in Athens, remembers reading out loud in his first-grade class, stumbling over words and getting frustrated. He would start laughing as a defense mechanism. But even when he struggled, he found other ways to communicate.
“I’ve been told that when it has held me back, I went through other means to express myself,” Souras says.
He’s an artist, creating works that address big global issues, like the refugee crisis. He credits his stutter for leading him to art in the first place.
“Even nowadays it’s still in the back of my head, kind of … a reminder that it serves as a different form of expression whenever I’m not comfortable with the verbal aspects,” he says.
Souras tells his story in a new video from the nonprofit Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY) — the latest in the organization’s ongoing series called My Stutter. The videos, which first launched last year, showcase people who stutter from a variety of backgrounds and ages talking about their experiences and resilience.
One of the main goals of the My Stutter series, according to SAY’s founder and president Taro Alexander, is to show young people who stutter that their voices are important. It also fights back against the misguided idea that stuttering is something to fix or overcome.
“The response to the My Stutter series has been profound,” Alexander says. “Both people who stutter and people who don’t stutter have said how deeply impacted they have been by this series. They have been inspired and educated.”
“The vision he has as an artist, a person who stutters, and a humanitarian inspire me a great deal.”
As many as 5 percent of young children stutter, and approximately 70 million people overall, according to SAY. While stuttering is different for everyone, it’s often characterized by repetitions of sounds, prolonging of certain syllables, blocks of silence, and sometimes other gestures. Those difficulties with speaking, however, don’t include the impacts it has on daily life — and the stigma that comes with stuttering.
But the My Stutter series destroys that stigma by showing real people who stutter taking control of their own narratives, and proving to children that they’re not alone.
“I find Achilleas’ video to be absolutely inspirational. The vision he has as an artist, a person who stutters, and a humanitarian inspire me a great deal,” Alexander says.
In his video, Souras talks about how he now chooses to do a lot of speaking engagements and speeches. He also does Model U.N. and other activities through which he can show that “stuttering is something I always choose to work around.”
And then there’s his art. When Souras was on the Greek island of Lesbos — a major port for refugees seeking asylum in Europe — he saw life jackets washed up on the shore. As of 2015, more than 450,000 life jackets were abandoned on the beaches. So he used them to create “igloos” as emergency shelters, each one made up of more than 30 life jackets, shining a light on the dangerous journey that hundreds of thousands of refugees make (and don’t always survive) across the Mediterranean Sea each year.
Souras’ installation, “Save Our Souls,” was featured at the Museum of Modern Art’s Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter exhibition in New York earlier this year, and has also appeared in other museums around the world.
While there may not be a direct link between his stutter and his artistic subject matter, Souras does say it’s led him to see the world in different ways, and even be more empathetic.
“You learn to be kinder, give people more time, and know that there is no perfect.”
“You learn to be kinder, give people more time, and know that there is no perfect,” he tells Mashable.
Working through a stutter, he adds, is a “growth experience” that helps form your view of the world and the various people in it. It’s often misunderstood, or people don’t know a lot about it. But you learn to own it.
“You sort of recognize the members of this quite exclusive community, and admire the ones that have succeeded despite stuttering and because of stuttering,” he says.
Toward the end of his My Stutter video, Souras is asked what advice he would give other kids and teens who stutter.
“Simply find a way to work around it or discover a new voice, whether that’s through an artistic form or something you like doing,” he says. “Communication is important, but it doesn’t have to be done verbally.”