5 ways to help someone who stutters

If you’re someone who doesn’t stutter, you might have a number of questions about what to do when talking to someone who does, and how you can best help them. If you’re worried you might offend them, or you’re unsure of the best way to phrase a question, then read on.

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As with everything else, people who stutter are all very different, and as a result, individuals may have their own preferences on what they want listeners to do when they are stuttering. For instance, it’s generally considered that the cardinal rule of helping a person who stutters is to let them finish their sentence, but there are still a few people who stutter who prefer others to finish their sentences for them – to “get it over with” as some have described it. It’s good practice to always ask someone what they prefer, but if you’d rather avoid it, then it’s best to let them finish.

So, other than letting them finish, what are other ways you can help a person who stutters?

  1. Don’t tell them how to stop stuttering

Unless you are a qualified Speech Language Therapist, it usually isn’t helpful if you tell them how to stop stuttering, or if you’ve found a cure. The majority of people who stutter have done so most of their lives, and have likely been through therapy and done their own research on how to improve their fluency. There is no known cure, and often anecdotes of your own family members or acquaintances who have cured their stutter will not help the person you are talking to.

  1. Don’t make jokes about stuttering

Although stuttering remains a punchline for many comedians, writers, and everyday people, it’s often no laughing matter for a person who stutters. It can be an extremely debilitating experience, and to find that your dysfluency is the butt of a joke can be tough.

  1. Let them know you are here to talkis there a cure for stuttering

Stuttering can be very isolating, and people who stutter often feel as though they miss out on social interactions that other people have. If someone in your life stutters, make sure they know that you’re there for them, and that you support them. Letting them finish their sentences is the first step, but being a great friend is even better. Listening actively and making sure they know it’s ok to talk about stuttering with you is a great way to help a person who stutters.

  1. Stand up for them

While we hope there never comes a time that a person who stutters is bullied, or discriminated against either at school, in the workplace, or anywhere else, the reality is that these situations can still happen. If a person who stutters in your life is experiencing negativity or discrimination, it’s important that you discuss it with them and stand up for them.

  1.  Stand with them

Every person who stutters is different. Some prefer to accept their stutter and leave it as is, while others are more interested in treatment and exercises to help with fluency and confidence. Some find that they have anxiety due to their stutter, whereas others don’t. Some prefer you to speak for them, while others want you to let them finish. If there is a person in your life who stutters, find out what works best for them, and stand with them in their decisions.

Why don’t we stutter when we sing?

Have you ever noticed that you don’t stutter when you sing?

Or if you’re a person who doesn’t stutter, have you ever wondered why you’ve never heard someone stutter while singing? If you watch the video below of Harrison Craig – season 2 winner of The Voice Australia 2013 – you’ll understand how big the change between speaking and singing can be for someone who stutters.

It’s an interesting observation, and there’s no single answer for why this phenomenon occurs. Scientists and researchers have worked hard to answer many difficult questions about stuttering, however when it comes to the singing debate, there are a few strong theories.

Singing occurs in a different part of the brain:

The University of Iowa has done some research on this topic, and have concluded that “Music is an activity in which you use the right side of the brain (language uses the left), so when you sing music, you’re no longer using your left brain (and probably no longer stuttering).”

This is an interesting observation and could very well be why singing is unaffected by stuttering.

We use our vocal cords and mouths differently when singing:

It’s true that in order to sing (well), we need to alter the way we use our vocal cords, as well as how we shape our tongues and mouths. There is a theory that this could have a part to play in why people don’t stutter when they sing and is attributed as one of the potential reasons by The Stuttering Foundation of America.

Here at START we think it could be a combination of our using our vocal cords and mouths differently as well as singing activating a different part of the brain. As one of our SLT Voon Pang says; “the brain controls the mouth, so if the brain is telling the mouth to do something different then I suppose this could be one of the reasons why we don’t stutter when we sing.”

Singing is a different form of communication than most speaking:

Most communication is two-way. It involves an unpredictable conversation, where you can’t plan your next answer. It also holds the potential for the other person or people to interrupt, or to become impatient. Singing, however, is mostly one-way communication, and eliminates the possibility for these challenges. We have often memorised the  lyrics when we sing, rather than facing an unpredictable conversation, and unless we are at karaoke it’s unlikely anyone in the audience is planning to interrupt.

We have had many parents comment that when a child is playing by themselves, or talking to themselves, that their stutter is not present. This could be similar to why one-way communication in singing reduces stuttering.

These three theories may or may not be the reason why we don’t stutter when we sing, it may be a combination of the three, or it could even be something else. The truth is, there is still a lot of research to be done.

What we do know, however, is that while singing, putting on an accent, or otherwise altering the way you speak can reduce stuttering, it is still not a permanent cure – it’s unreasonable to expect  someone to alter their speech 24/7. However if you are concerned about your stutter, please speak to one of our Speech Language Therapists first, before resorting to singing for the rest of your life.

Community is key

Although stuttering affects only 1% of the population, that still means nearly 15,000 people in Auckland alone have a stutter. Nevertheless, many of the people we work with tell us they have never met anyone else who stutters.

What we’ve noticed from many of our youth events in particular, is that one of the most successful aspects of a community or group event is that people who stutter can meet other people just like them. Meeting someone who can relate to you has a massively positive effect for stutterers, and can be the start of lifelong, supportive friendships.

A supportive community doesn’t have to be one that also stutters however, and it’s important that friends, family, and colleagues of a person who stutters understand what stuttering is, and how they can be supportive.

People who stutter needn’t be coddled or handheld, they are often confident and expressive people with many great opinions just like everyone else – but a negative or unsupportive community can be a huge hindrance.

If you are someone who stutters and you’ve found that people around you:

  • Talk over you
  • Finish your sentences
  • Make you feel a sense of urgency, like you need to hurry your speech
  • Or generally don’t make you feel comfortable talking

There is a chance they may not know how to handle a situation with ease. If they care about you, they will be eager to know what it is they are doing that is unhelpful, and what they can do to help – so let them know.

Only through educating as many people as we can about stuttering can we really create a world that is supportive and understands what stuttering is and how they can help.

Don’t be afraid to correct people, and tell them how you feel, so that you can find a community of people that supports you.

START speaks up on the global stage

Dr Anna Hearne, a speech language therapist based at our Albany clinic, has recently returned from Germany and France where she has been sharing her knowledge with clinicians and therapists from across Europe. Anna was invited to present at a conference conducted by the Interdisziplinaere Vereinigung der Stottertherapeuten in Fulda, Germany (translated as the “Interdisciplinary Association of Stutter Therapists”).

 

The conference was focused on “’Effectiveness of Therapy for stuttering: what we do, and how we measure this”. Together with colleague Bettina Freerk, the presentation explained their findings and experience with the Lidcombe Program for stuttering treatment in children. Following each presentation there was a chance for healthy discussion of the topic and a question and answer session among the professionals to maximise learnings. As one of only 10 presentations to an exclusive group of 130 invitees, Anna and Bettina not only educated the audience but also helped to grow STARTs networks on a global scale.

 

A big part of our role as therapists is professional development and education. For us, it’s important to stay at the head of the field with the latest research and treatment approaches to ensure we’re delivering the best service to our clients. As well as the conference in Germany, Anna continued on to present workshops about the Lidcombe Program in Germany and the Camperdown Program in France, helping more therapists to become aware and proficient with these treatment approaches.