Me in 2012 with my nerdy outfit
Me in 2012 with my nerdy outfit

A great way to minimize more-than-usual-amounts-of stuttering for many of us is to slow down our speech and breath differently. Most people begin to talk quickly when they are excited, and stutterers are no exception. However, this really only works when your speech is so greatly slowed down that it’s uncomfortable. It also doesn’t help much for severe stutters.

There is no way for me to count the amount of times I was told to “slow down” or “calm down” when I spoke. But slowing down wouldn’t stop my stuttering. If anything, it would just shut me up. I had to be different, but not because I had to be. I had to be different so that other people would be comfortable listening to me; these other people were always teachers and my grandma and speech therapists. It drove me bonkers.

“I always wondered if those same people would have asked a blind person to ‘focus in’ or recommend that a deaf person ‘listen a little harder.’ Unfortunately, stuttering is not always seen as a ‘valid’ condition, whatever that may mean. All too often it is judged and seen as a personal weakness, a character flaw rather than a disability… It is unusual but not unusual enough.” This was written by Katherine Preston in Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice (great read, by the way.)

I get what she’s saying. When someone is telling you to slow down, they’re telling you to fix yourself for them and that your problem is controllable by something so simple. The truth is that people with a speech impediment will also stutter when speaking at whatever rate others want us to speak at. Other people get to talk quickly, so I will too. The comments these people were making weren’t really to help me. I know this because the same person who constantly told me to slow down when I talked later told me that she “felt sorry” for my friends who had to listen to me stutter.

I’m not saying that I should never calm down. Sometimes I do get way too excited and can hardly get a sentence out – but not because I’m stuttering. Sometimes I do need to take a deep breath and slow down – but it’s never been because I was stuttering too much. What I’m saying is that I shouldn’t slow down to an unnatural speaking pattern just because others would prefer to hear that than my stutter.

Other people’s opinions should only go so far, and the way fluent people judge non-fluent people’s speaking abilities should not be a matter of opinion. I would rather speak quickly and stutter a few times more than speak so slowly that I can’t talk as much as I want. (I liked reading Preston’s memoir-type-thing because I related to the desire to speak at all times and having a huge mouth.)

In other words, rethink how you think about stuttering. Instead of wanting to help people stop stuttering, let the nonfluent person decide what he or she would like to do. Don’t tell me to slow down just because it makes you uncomfortable to listen to the stuttering sounds. Don’t ask me if I’ve heard about the earpiece that “cures” stuttering (that’s what my relative was talking about when she told me that she felt sorry for my friends who had to listen to me, so I really would rather not talk about it). Don’t talk to me about breathing techniques or speech therapy unless you have useful information AND I have communicated to you that I want fluency.

Don’t assume the goal is fluency. Learn to be comfortable listening to a stutter.

A stutter is unusual enough to make people uncomfortable. A stutter is common enough for people to think that they have some technique or opinion that can “help” you. But I promise you that a stutterer has heard it all. So just learn to listen to us instead.

I would love to hear feedback on experiences, or if you have a different opinion (or agree)!

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