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5 Tips for Interacting With People Who Stutter

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As a person who stutters, I have encountered countless people who are unsure of how to respond to my speech. I have been hung up on because they think my phone has lost its signal and I’ve been told “It’s okay, just take a breath and take your time,” or “Oh, did you forget your name?” (Many of us who stutter, stutter on our names). It’s common to encounter a person who stutters, whether they are a co-worker, student, family member, or friend, but it’s not common to know how to react.

There are more than 3 million people in the United States who stutter, according to the National Stuttering Association. Yet, many people still don’t understand stuttering or know how to best communicate with someone who stutters.

The following are some tips for interacting with a person who stutters:

1. Use person-first language.

A person is not their stutter — it’s only one aspect of them. That is why the stuttering community prefers to be called “people who stutter” instead of “stutterers.” It is only one aspect of the individual.

2. Do not complete sentences.

“I would like p-p-p-”

“Pumpernickle? Pizza? Pasta?”

Numerous times I have had people try to complete my sentence. This can be frustrating because I am trying to communicate, and it feels like the other individual is impatient. Plus, they’re almost always wrong. It is best to remain patient and wait for the person to complete their thought.

3. Listen to what is being said and not how it is being said.

When talking to a person who stutters, it’s important to listen to the content. When you make observations about the stuttering that are out of context, it can make the person feel like they are not being heard. Comments like “slow down” or “It’s okay, relax” are not helpful.

4. Remember stuttering is a brain-based disability, not a psychological disorder.

People stutter because there’s a difference in the left hemisphere of their brain where language capabilities are located. This is why people stutter when they speak, but they do not stutter when they sing, rap, or talk in a cartoon-like voice. These are all functions of the right side of the brain. Stuttering is not a reflection of a personality disorder or deeper psychological issue.

5. Become an ally.

Becoming an ally for a person who stutters is easy. Here are some things you can do:

Not everyone who stutters is comfortable reading aloud. Ask the person before they are called on if they are comfortable and how else they might be able to participate.

Be patient and listen. Don’t tell the person who stutters about ways to make them more fluent, whether they are scientific, homeopathic or otherwise. Most of us have tried everything from faith healers to speech therapy and still stutter. People continue to stutter because of a neurological difference, not because they are lazy in using their speech tools.

Remember stuttering is just another way to speak, like an accent. Some people are comfortable with their speech and choose to stutter openly.

When someone cuts off a person who stutters, you can be an ally by saying “Wait, I think they’re not done yet.”

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Originally published: May 18, 2015
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