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Getting Out the Words: Resources on Stuttering

Bo Jackson. Winston Churchill. Marilyn Monroe. Alan Turing. Nicholas Brendon. John Updike. James Earl Jones.
All of these famous people, some of whom make their living in front of the cameras, have the same difficulty-they are stutterers.
Stuttering Awareness Week occurs each May. Take a few minutes to learn more about this common problem which affects people of all ages.

Stuttering has been known around the world and far back into history. The ancient Egyptians coined two written phrases, ketket (to quake) and nitit (to hesitate) which, when coupled with the hieroglyphic for mouth, indicate stuttering.
Moses was described as being "slow of tongue," and Biblical scholars believed that he, too, stuttered.

What Is Stuttering?

When someone is able to speak well, we say he is a fluent speaker. Likewise, when communication is difficult, the person is said to suffer from dysfluency. Stuttering is one kind of dysfluency, a break in the normal flow of speech. In the course of learning to talk, stuttering is often a normal stage of development. However, some people simply never grow out of it. It can affect them throughout their lives.

From time to time, everybody misspeaks. Nervousness or excitement can wind you up so much that your ability to think of what you want to say goes faster than your ability to pronounce the words clearly.

If stuttering only happens rarely, it's likely no cause to worry. However, when it occurs often, it may be a medical condition that needs treatment.

Stutterers may repeat the first syllables of words: "Wh-wh do you want to do?" Or, they may have a space between words: "What (significant pause) do you want to do?" Yet another possibility is when the speaker avoids words that might give them trouble: "Wh- is there something you'd like to do?"

These are only some of the difficulties in speech patterns which may be experienced by stutterers. Unfortunately, stuttering, or stammering as it's called in Britain, can have social as well as well as physical consequences.

According to Dr. Nathan Lavid's book, Understanding Stuttering, if you know someone who stutters, there are a few things you can do to make your conversations easier for them:

Maintain eye contact.
This demonstrates that you are paying attention to what they are saying and is simply polite. Looking away may make the stutterer self-conscious and make communication harder.

Consider commenting on the condition.
This may sound odd, but people are aware that they stutter, and unless you are a tremendous actor, it will be difficult not to show some sort of reaction at first. Asking a simple question might put them more at ease.

Ask for clarification if you truly do not understand what is said.
More likely than not, the person would prefer to have a meaningful conversation than a lot of senseless nodding in apparent agreement

Do not finish off sentences.
Use patience, and let them speak for themselves. You may guess the end of a sentence incorrectly.

Do not offer "helpful" speaking tips.
Unless you are a medical doctor, and most desirably a speech pathologist, you are not qualified to offer advice. Even so, unless the advice is requested, preferably within a clinical setting, it is better not to speak.

To learn more about this condition, check our list of sites and books, Resources on Stuttering, and please consult a speech and language pathologist for the most recent options in treatment.