What to Do When Talking to Someone Who Stutters
Stuttering is often misunderstood and can cause the listener to feel anxious. However, if you keep the following in mind, the experience will be a more comfortable one for you and the person who stutters.
Be patient. You might be very tempted to finish sentences or fill in words for the person. Unless you know the person well and have his or her permission, please do not do this. Your action could be taken as demeaning. Of course, if you guess the wrong word, the difficulties multiply.
Refrain from making remarks like: “slow down,” “take a breath,” or “relax.” Such advice can be felt as patronizing and is not constructive.
Maintain eye contact and try not to look embarrassed or alarmed. Just wait patiently and naturally until the person is finished.
Be aware that people who stutter usually have more trouble controlling their speech on the telephone. Saying “Hello,” in particular, often presents a special problem. Please be extra patient in this situation.
People sometimes ask if they should ask the person questions about his or her stuttering. This is something we must leave to your judgment. But surely, stuttering should not be a taboo subject. If you have a question about it, the person will probably appreciate your interest. It is in your mutual benefit that it be talked about openly. You should be prepared that some people who stutter will be sensitive about it, but if you follow the rules of common courtesy, you should be fine.
The person’s stuttering sometimes makes it harder to understand what he or she is saying. If you do not understand what is said to you, do not be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you just said.” No matter how much of a struggle it was for them to say it, this is preferable to your pretending you understood, or guessing what his or her communication was.
In general, let the person know by your manner and actions that you are listening to what he or she is saying and not how he or she is saying it. Be yourself. Be a good listener.
People who stutter are normal except it may take them a bit longer to talk. Stuttering is a complex set of behaviors that interfere with the production of fluent speech. There are as many different patterns of stuttering behavior as there are people who stutter.
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