No two people who stutter are alike. When talking to someone who stutters, use compassion and common sense – would you like to always get random advice from others that make you feel inferior?
In life, you are bound to meet one, if not many, people who stutter. If you think “I actually have never encountered someone who stutters”, chances are that you have, and did not realize it (given that 1% of the entire population stutters). If you were aware of the person’s stuttering, how did you react? Did you feel uncomfortable or think you might have done something wrong?
Multiple organizations, blogs, and individuals have written about these encounters. We have collected some statements and general tips about conversing with and supporting people who stutter. As a general rule however, always keep in mind that you are talking to a “normal”, sensitive, smart person – a person that is not defined by his/her stutter, but rather their individual characteristics.
- “Slow down” and “Take a deep breath” are not useful advice. These techniques do not help the person who stutters and could even increase the severity of their stutter. Not to mention that giving advice on a topic you are not familiar with is not okay, unless you are an actual expert.
- Don’t finish sentences, be patient. Chances are that you are finishing their sentence incorrectly anyway, which causes the person who stutters to have to start all over again to express their own thoughts.
- “Please stop trying to guess what word we’re trying to say”. This aligns with the part above regarding finishing sentences. Let the individual speak for themselves.
- It can be helpful to slow down your own speech during conversations, and not bombard the person with too many questions all at once.
- Let the person know by your manner and body language that you are listening to what he or she says — not how they say it. Use active listening skills, just like you would with any other speaker (nodding while they speak, keeping eye contact until you know they are done speaking, responding to statements with facial expressions).
- Be an advocate and help the individual educate the people in his/her speaking environments. For example: supporting them if they are dealing with bullies, helping their coworkers understand, and/or being open about their stuttering in social situations.
Read these stories and broaden your horizon:
A young boy at school:
It bothers me when peers walk away while I am stuttering, because I wanted to talk to them but didn’t have the chance.
Note: Sometimes blockages can be in the form of prolonged silence. Do not mistake this for the person having nothing to say.
A stuttering experience in a coffee shop:
While ordering, I began to stutter on the word “iced”. This led the barista to think I was being funny, and she proceeded to mimic my stutter. Now, I just order a hot coffee every morning, because I simply do not want to say the word “iced”.