and I, a bonafide person who stutters, am here to give you the low-down on stuttering and how be a better listener
and not be a dick to people with speech disorders!
WHAT STUTTERING IS
via the NIDCD:
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which sounds, syllables, or words are repeated or prolonged, disrupting the normal flow of speech. These speech disruptions may be accompanied by struggling behaviors, such as rapid eye blinks or tremors of the lips. Stuttering can make it difficult to communicate with other people, which often affects a person’s quality of life.
It involves various “disfluencies” in speech, which can range from repeated syllables (c-c-c-candles) to silent blocks in speech (c————candles) and can rate from mild to severe. Stuttering affects over 3 million Americans and 67 million people worldwide.
WHAT STUTTERING IS NOT
Stuttering is not caused by traumatic experiences, emotional problems, poor parenting, or lack of intelligence. It’s a biological/neurological disorder that has recently been linked to genetics; in 2010, NIDCD researchers isolated three genes that cause stuttering. Stuttering is not caused by being “nervous” or “anxious,” but a vicious cycle emerges where the anxiety of speaking can cause stuttering behaviors to increase and, thus, increase anxiety of speaking.
HOW NOT TO BE A DICK TO PEOPLE WITH SPEECH/LANGUAGE DISORDERS
- Be patient. If you can’t be patient, pretend to be patient. Listen to the words, not the rate at which they’re said. Asking that person to repeat an unclear word is totally okay.
- Do not finish sentences. Do not interrupt. Do not say “calm down” or “don’t be so nervous.” Do not ask if they need time to think. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
- If you outright laugh at a person’s speech disorder, I’m not responsible if that person punches you in the face. In fact, I’m probably going to condone it.
- Keep eye contact and don’t make a face like you’re confused, amused or terrified. They will notice. (After 20 years of stuttering, I can pick out the weak ones who are thrown off by how I speak within 1 second of a disfluency.)
- If you’re in food service, customer service or any sector where you may encounter a person who stutters, you have the ability to make or ruin our day. The above rules apply, with an added addition of please, please don’t rush us, no matter how long the line is – it’s just going to make it worse.
- Everyone is different. If you don’t know if a certain thing you do makes someone uncomfortable, ask them.
LIFE AS A STUTTERER
I’m on the moderate/severe side of the scale and have been stuttering since I was four years old. Twenty years. I need you to imagine a life where you have to walk a circuit around Starbucks five times to decide if your dignity is worth a Frappuccino today. Imagine only saying 25% of what you want to say. Sometimes it’s lonely and it’s always frustrating; people assume intelligence is tied to your ability to speak fluently.
Thing is, I’m not alone. I know other people struggle. It’s taken this long for me to own my disorder. This is a part of me. This made me who I am. This runs my life but it doesn’t have to ruin it. Keep your heads up, kids.
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