You might know someone who stutters, or maybe you have seen someone stutter in a movie or on television. Stuttering is the disruption of airflow caused by bodily tension anywhere within the speech mechanism (e.g., voice box, tongue, lips). It might sound like a sound repetition (e.g., “b-b-boy”), prolongation (e.g., “boooooy”) or a block (e.g., “b-oy”), and these stutters might be accompanied by physical signs of tension (e.g., eye-blinking, tongue-clicking, twitching).
So, how can you help someone who stutters? Here are 5 tips to keep in mind:
1. Show the person who stutters that you are listening to the content of what they are saying, not how they are saying it. You can show them this by using nonverbal communication (eye gaze, nodding) as they are speaking, regardless of whether or not they stutter. By doing this, you are conveying that stuttering is okay.
2. Providing wait time. People who stutter often feel a sense of time pressure, which can contribute to increased tension. This tension thereby increases the likelihood of stuttering, and so the cycle continues. By providing wait time, you are indicating that there is no need to rush or feel tension during conversation; the message is worth waiting for. You are conveying that stuttering is okay.
3. Recognize that there is no such thing as being 100% fluent. Every human being has at the very least some moments of dysfluency. We all have hesitancies (e.g., um, uh), phrase repetitions, and we all make revisions. Bring this awareness to your own communication. We all can do a better job of recognizing that dysfluencies are okay.
4. A person who stutters is a multifaceted person. A person who stutters is a friend, a student, an artist, an athlete, and/or any other number of respectable traits. Stuttering does not and should not be the defining characteristic of a person, nor should the amount of stuttering be a metric for success. However often or severely someone may stutter, stuttering is okay.
5. Let’s all say it together, “It is okay to stutter!” There is no cure or “magic pill” when it comes to stuttering treatment. Speech therapy provides stuttering management, education and counseling to individuals who stutter and their families so that they may gain a sense of control over stuttering, rather than feeling controlled by the stutter. Ultimately, stuttering should not be something to be feared. Coming to a place of acceptance about stuttering can be challenging, perhaps the most challenging part of therapy, but it can also open the door wide open to easier communication. Stuttering is okay, but when it gets in your way, we are here to help.