For International Stuttering Awareness Day (10/22).
I’ll be honest: I really don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of the way that I talk. In my fifth decade, I just don’t have time for that nonsense anymore. But there are a lot of people who do, so I ask my friends, family, and other people that might get a hold of this thing to keep them in mind.
I am probably being a lousy advocate here. Many people who know me forget that I stutter or don’t think very much of it because I have been so open about it and, well, let’s be blunt: the stutter, drill sergeants, particularly mean nuns and everything else under the sun have never been able to shut me up. My stutter has affected me, but in other ways, and I won’t get into that now. I think my inability to keep my damn mouth shut has hindered me far more than my stutter ever did.
But, while remembering that I do stutter, forget about me…
You can make a difference in a person’s life by listening to them, hearing what they have to say, and by simply being aware that they struggle with something that comes naturally to you, fluency.
First, how to have a conversation with someone who stutters:
1) Don’t finish their sentences. I always hated that. Most of the time, they were wrong and I would just have to start all over with the extra added stress of having my stutter pointed out to me.
2) Don’t tell them to relax. I realize you just want to help but it doesn’t help. It does the opposite. Yes, relaxing would help, but putting a spotlight on the inability to relax just makes the situation worse.
3) Don’t talk over them. I know, I know: I’ve heard it a dozen times. “I do that to everybody!” You are not talking to everybody. You are talking to a person who stutters. I walk faster than everybody. But when I was walking with my mom, I didn’t drag her along at my pace. I walked slower, allowing her the respect and dignity she deserved.
For me, I just roll with it. And I reach out to others in groups and whenever I can to try to equip them with better tools for living with a stutter, trying to share my experiences and what has worked for me.
For many, stuttering is a true disability that hobbles them, crushes their self confidence and generally makes their lives hell. They crave the ability to engage the world, but get slapped down so often it makes a simple task like ordering at a drive through a nightmarish experience. Yeah, I think we make too much of our stutters, but that it neither here nor there.
Just by listening to them (while following the above rules), and being aware that people stutter, you can really make a difference in somebody’s life. There is this expectation that our stutter is going to met with rudeness, laughter (no, we did not forget our name), ignorance (as in them not knowing what the stutter is), pity and our conversations are going to become a battleground for fluency.
Confound the expectations! Help people that stutter learn that their voices are just as important as yours. It is really such a simple thing to do.
Afterthought: Because this is being posted on Facebook, with many family members and people I grew up with, I just want to say thank you. I don’t know what you did, or how you did it, but you helped me be me. I’ve read and heard stories of the other side of stuttering, where a difficult environment led to the stutter being a true disability. But all of you, without even knowing it I think, created this environment that I wish for all kids who stutter or with other difficulties, where there was not really a battleground to be “normal” or accepted. You rolled with my stutter, helping me to roll with it as well. I never wanted special treatment, just given the same opportunities as everybody else. Yes, I was teased, but I don’t think it ever rose to the level of targeted viciousness that made me withdraw. Know what I mean?
And second afterthought (I really can’t my mouth shut or my fingers away from the keyboard): pass this on if you are so inclined. And if you or somebody you know want to chat about my stutter and my experiences and how I don’t give a rat’s ass, contact me.