As support group leader for “Speak Out!,” Oklahoma City’s National Stuttering Association (NSA) adult support group, I was touched personally by “The King’s Speech” movie. The movie captures very well the feelings and emotions that people with disfluency struggle with daily.
We who stutter sometimes harbor fear, anxiety, dread, self-hatred and public scorn, because we cannot speak as most others do. “The King’s Speech” has accomplished what stuttering organizations have failed to do in their entire existence, and that is to bring stuttering into the public consciousness.
It is estimated that roughly 1 percent of humanity struggles with stuttering, or stammering as the English call it. Men outnumber female stutterers fourto-one. There is no cure for stuttering, but there are many treatments. Some are helpful and some aren’t. Stuttering is not well understood by the medical profession, but a recent study pointed to a physiological cause. Support groups like ours in Oklahoma City focus, not on cures, but on coping with the disfluency that stuttering causes.
We who stutter aren’t lacking in intelligence or suffering psychotic episodes. Defective speech does not equate to defective people. We are just ordinary people who struggle to some degree with certain syllables, vowels or words. And for this we sometimes feel cursed and lonely. Stress will sometimes exacerbate stuttering for some.
Stuttering makes the simple task of asking a person to go out on a date equivalent to climbing Mount Everest. Classroom settings can be tortuous to a person who stutters and worries more about being called upon to answer a question than not knowing the answer. People often believe that those who stutter are lying or are dishonest. This only adds to the stress of speaking for a person with disfluency.
So if you encounter a person who stutters, here are a few tips: First, let them finish speaking their own words. People are sometimes tempted to finish sentences for those who stutter. Second, it’s OK to stutter. Don’t tell them to slow down, relax or breathe. They stutter. It’s who they are. It’s OK. Third, people who stutter don’t always stutter predictably the same way. Some people will stutter in different situations than others. Finally, people are often embarrassed when they stutter, so help them by just listening to their words. Don’t judge or ridicule. Would you ridicule a blind person for not being able to see? It’s the same thing.