Hi, I Stutter
By Tea B
With the 2020 presidential election less than a month away, talk about Donald Trump and Joe Biden is everywhere, and with it, talk about Joe Biden’s stutter. But, before his presidential candidacy, not many people even knew Biden had a stutter. This isn’t surprising, since many people only stutter moderately, and just because someone appears to be fluent most of the time, it does not mean that they are always fluent. In addition, it is entirely possible for stutters thought to be long gone to resurface, especially in a tense or stressful situation (props to Biden during the presidential debate…).
That being said, stuttering is not simple or one-dimensional, it is complex and affects every person who stutters differently. People also deal with their stutter in different ways. Some seek help or “treatment” from speech therapists early on in life, others actively work or talk around words that are difficult for them to say (these people are also known as “covert people who stutter”), and some simply live with their stutter without changing a thing.
Personally, I’ve always been scared and ashamed to speak out about my stutter, to reinforce the fact that I don’t speak like everyone else. Whenever someone reads something out loud in class, my first thought is always, “I wish I could do that. I wish my speech could flow like that.” I can read something in my head and it sounds fluent and perfect, but the second I open my mouth I get tripped up on harsh consonants and words that start with vowels. I wish I could get through a whole presentation without almost having a breakdown because I’m stuttering so much. I wish that some of my past teachers had just asked me about my stutter instead of dancing around it. And a part of my just honestly wishes that my stutter was never there to begin with. Let me tell you, having a stutter sucks, and there is no other way to put it. So, speaking for myself and from what I have experienced, I have a few simple requests…
I don’t want pity. I know that I’m stuttering. I don’t need kind looks, reassuring smiles, or you to finish my sentences (seriously do NOT finish my sentences that just makes me feel stupid). While people who stutter are definitely in the minority, making up about one percent of the world’s population, that doesn’t make us not “normal” or “different,” and we deserve to be treated like any other person.
I’m not a “stutterer.” Some people who stutter are fine with calling themselves “stutterers,” but personally I’d rather be called a PWS, or person who stutters. Stuttering is something that happens when I speak, but it does not define who I am.
Do not mock people. I cannot stress this enough. Regardless of whether you know that someone has a speech impediment, do not mock them or copy them if they stumble over words. It’s just not cool, and it honestly hurts, especially if you accidentally mock someone who does happen to have a stutter.
Stuttering is a disability, but it is up to a person who stutters to decide if they identify as “disabled.” So, try not to assume whether someone does or does not consider themselves “disabled.”
If I just read out loud or presented in class and stuttered badly, please don’t bring it up afterwards, even if you’re trying to check in on me. That just makes me feel so much worse about the whole affair and the fact that I stuttered, in the end.
The bottom line is: don’t joke about my stutter, it hurts, and it’s not funny.
October 22nd is International Stuttering Awareness Day, and I’ve always had trouble telling people what exactly they can and should do on this day. One great resource to look into is the Stuttering Foundation, a non-profit that works to support people who stutter and research the still unknown cause of stuttering. But overall, it’s hard to raise awareness about stuttering, because it affects so few people compared to those who speak fluently. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge that stuttering exists and think about what you can do to be kinder to someone who stutters. Change your habits to be aware of what comments you make regarding someone’s speech, as well as how you treat people who stutter compared to others who speak fluently. Stuttering doesn’t make someone stupid or lesser. It doesn’t make someone any different at all, really. As Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Mississippi Greg Snyder put it, “Stuttering is neither good nor bad, it just is.”