One percent of the world’s population suffers from a speech impediment known as stuttering. Stuttering is a speech disorder that causes blocks, prolonged sounds, and repetition in one’s speech. Many children stutter for several months when they first begin to speak, but most stutters lessen or fade before and after a child goes into their early teens. Although there isn’t one main cause for stuttering, experts believe that people who stutter may have slight abnormalities in their dominant hemispheres, or that it’s a family trait.
Having a stutter isn’t fun. You constantly feel stuck: what you want to say is right there, but you can’t get it out. It’s embarrassing too, when you’re talking to people and can’t even get out one simple syllable without struggling. Tuesday, October 22nd is International Stuttering Awareness Day. This is a day meant to promote research in order to find the causes and possible cures for stuttering and raise awareness about people who stutter and their disability.
So, in honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day, here are a few facts about stuttering:
People who stutter generally don’t like to be called “stutterers.” A better term to use is simply “People Who Stutter” or PWS for short.
There are a bunch of really funny folk myths about stuttering. Some people believed (and maybe still do, who knows?) that stuttering was caused by a mother seeing a snake during pregnancy, or letting a child look in the mirror for too long. And recommendations for “healing” people (children especially) of their stutters included hitting PWS in the mouth with a dish towel and throwing eggs at people’s faces whenever they stuttered.
There’s actually a large divide present within the stuttering community. One side is in favor of self love, and appreciating every part of yourself, including your stutter. The other side believes in more modern remedies, and advises parents to take their children to speech therapy at an early age.
Stuttering isn’t fully covered under the American Disabilities Act. For example, if someone with a more mild stutter were to be fired from a job because of their stutter, they would probably not be covered under the ADA because their disability isn’t preventing them from communicating.
The word “stutter” is onomatopoeic. Whoever came up with that was clearly not thinking straight, because a lot of people who stutter can’t actually say the word stutter.
Many people who stutter are “covert PWS,” meaning they have a stutter, but they don’t let anyone find out about it by not saying the words they have trouble with or using other strategies such as saying “uh” or “like.”
Marilyn Monroe’s signature breathy voice was a tactic she used to avoid her stutter. Other actors have and previously had speech impediments as well, such as Emily Blunt, Julia Roberts, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis.
One of the 2020 Democratic candidates has a stutter. Can you guess who? (It’s Joe Biden.)
My entire life, I’ve been asked questions like “Why did you struggle so much saying that sentence?” or “Why can’t you just fix it?” I’ve been told that my stutter was a technical difficulty and that I was stupid because I couldn’t speak the way everyone else did. But I can’t fix my stutter. I can’t get past something that comes out every time I open my mouth to speak. I don’t need commentary on my stutter – I know it’s there. A lot of my discomfort about my stutter comes from being bullied about it in elementary school. I still receive comments about my stutter, and even if they aren’t intended to hurt, most still do.
Here are a few recommendations to be aware whenever you talk to someone who stutters:
1. Don’t finish the sentences of people who stutter.
If I can’t get out that last word of a sentence because it’s stuck in my throat, while it may seem like you’re helping me get through a word, it actually just really hurts my self-esteem. Finishing that sentence is something I need to do on my own, just as any “normal” person would, without the additional help.
2. Even if you don’t think someone has a stutter, don’t mock them.
Personally, mocking has always been an area I steer clear of, simply because of my personal experience surrounding it. Repeating the stuttered words of someone who stutters is a great way to deepen wounds that are already present within any PWS. But regardless, even if someone is just nervous or is speaking too fast and stumbles over a word, you shouldn’t make fun of the way someone speaks, everyone stutters sometimes.
3. Treat people who stutter as you would anyone else.
If you think that you’re about to act in a negative way towards someone who stutters, consider what you would say or do if that person didn’t have a stutter, and behave towards them as you would someone with “perfect speech.” Most of the time, people who stutter don’t want special treatment, for people to act differently around them, or treat them with pity, we just want to be treated like any other person, and for our disability to not be setting us apart so much.
On Tuesday, be aware of the one percent of the population who stutters. Be aware of the people who aren’t able to get a job because they don’t speak the way everyone else does. Be aware of the kids who are bullied because they can’t get through a sentence without getting stuck. And be aware of how you speak and act towards someone who stutters: one small comment can really hurt.