Stuttering is a condition that is widely misunderstood, leading to widespread stigma. A person who stutters is often seen as lacking intelligence or authority in what they have to say, but it is actually just a variation of “expected” speech. Stuttering is usually a lifelong condition, even with treatment such as speech therapy. To work towards shattering the stigma around stuttering, we must first start in our conversations. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when speaking with someone who stutters:

Patience

We may not realize it, but we have all, to some extent, been taught to expect direct conversation with few pauses or stumbles. However, pauses and stumbles are a part of reality for those who stutter. Rather than focusing on the amount of time it takes to hold a conversation, focus instead on the importance of the conversation being had. Allow those who stutter to speak without conditions. Your job is simply to listen patiently.

Don’t Give Advice

Those who do not stutter tend to feel compelled to give speaking advice in an attempt to help, but this can actually make the person who stutters more anxious. It can even be more disruptive to the conversation. Telling a person who stutters to slow down, take a breath, or relax can often come off as condescending, even if you mean well.

Ask for Clarification

You may not always understand what someone who stutters is saying, but this also happens when speaking with someone who does not stutter. Don’t pretend to understand if you really don’t; ask the person to repeat themselves. This shows that you are truly listening and care about what they have to say. Be honest and polite, such as saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Can you say it again?”

Don’t Fill In

If the person you are speaking to pauses for a prolonged period of time, you might feel tempted to fill in their sentences. Do not assume that you know what the other person wants to say; give them the chance to express their own thoughts. This may mean teaching yourself to be comfortable in silent gaps.

Focus

When speaking with someone who stutters, focus on the conversation at hand as well as what that person is saying each time they speak. You do not have to ignore that the stutter is there, but you want to place more of your focus on what the person is saying.

Overall, it is important to accept that it is okay to stutter, whether you are the speaker or the listener. Get comfortable with repeated sounds and syllables as well as silence. Everyone should have a chance to speak and express their thoughts, regardless of the amount of time it takes.

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