06 Feb Useful Tips for Talking to People Who Stammer
According to The British Stammering Association, at least 5% of children under the age of five will go through a phase of stammering, and up to a quarter of these children are at risk of developing persistent stammering if they do not receive intervention. Around 1% of the adult population stammers, and published research studies indicate that stammering occurs across all cultures and in all social groups. It is therefore likely that, at some point in your life, you will have a conversation with a person who stammers at school, at work or at a social event, so it is important to know some useful tips to keep the conversation going.
Firstly, if you are feeling slightly uncomfortable when talking to a person who stammers, imagine how they are feeling if you are conveying frustration or anxiety towards them. It is important to help individuals feel comfortable and confident to express themselves and to be listened to with as much interest as any other person.
Here are some useful tips for talking to people who stammer:
- Be patient: It may be tempting to interrupt the speaker to ‘fill in’ words, finish the end of their sentence or even to give simple advice. It is really important that you remain patient and do not make remarks like “slow down,” “take a breath,” or “relax.” This advice can be felt as demeaning and is usually unhelpful to the speaker. Our aim is to show that it is OK to stammer…so be patient, maintain eye contact and give the speaker plenty of time.
- Demonstrate good listening skills: It is important to focus on what the speaker is saying and not how they are saying it. Showing that you are listening, interested in the conversation and relaxed will help the speaker complete their sentence. If you are showing discomfort during the conversation or giving fleeting eye-contact, the speaker will quickly pick up on this and become tense.
- Remember that stammering varies: The speaker may have the most difficulty speaking in particular situations, environments or in front of certain people. It is therefore helpful to find out where, when or with whom stammering is easier or more difficult.
- If you are unsure how to respond, you can ask the speaker: Always do this sensitively and in a way that leaves the speaker in control. Use open questions such as, “Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?” Or, if someone is stammering severely, closed questions such as “Would you prefer to go somewhere quieter?”. Your tone of voice will be very important when asking the speaker these questions, so please remember to be sensitive as some speakers may be uncomfortable talking about their stammer openly.
- Be mindful of the terminology you use: Avoid using phrases like “suffers from a stammer” or “is afflicted by a stammer”, as this assumes that stammering is something negative and stigmatised. Instead, use “person who stammers,” “stammerer,” or simply “has a stammer.” Similarly, swap “bad” or “debilitating” stammer for “severe stammer”, and change “speech impediment” to “speech impairment”. You can read more about this in the document The Way We Talk from The British Stammering Association.