I always try to discuss stuttering early in a personal or professional relationship. I address the obvious (yes, I stutter), and more importantly, I let the person know that I will happily answer any questions that they have. Below are some frequently asked questions.
1. Have you always stuttered?
As long as I can remember.
2. What causes stuttering?
There are three schools of thought.
The first holds that stuttering is a learned behavior. All children have some amount of disfluency when they begin to speak. Most children outgrow this disfluency, but a few children develop anxiety about their disfluency and continue to stutter into adulthood.
The second holds that stuttering is a psychological disorder and should be treated with psychoanalysis.
The third holds that stuttering is the result of a neurological problem. This is what I believe.
3. Haven't you tried speech therapy?
Yes. I have tried many different types of speech therapy with varying levels of success. A speech therapist in grade school advised me to skip the first letter of each word. Instead of "my name is Mark," I would say "y ame s ark." I'll let you guess how that turned out. The same therapist also told me to try singing instead of speaking. I'd rather stutter. At the Atlanta Speech School, I was hooked up to a machine that monitored my breathing while I talked. If I breathed "correctly," a balloon on a computer screen would inflate. I could inflate the balloon, but I still stuttered.
After those shenanigans, I began working with Tim Mackesey. Tim did not cure me, but he did help me learn to live as a stutterer. We talked to salespeople at malls or made phone calls to businesses, and I would stutter. People laughed at me, but I survived. Tim gave me tools to deal with the mechanics of stuttering, but more importantly, he gave me the confidence to live in spite of stuttering. Tim will be the focus of a future blog post.
4. Can't a stutterer just slow down and think about what they want to say before they say it?
If it were that easy, I would not still stutter. Let me know if you need more clarification.
5. Should I try to finish your sentences?
No. Please don't. First of all, there's a good chance that you don't know what I am going to say. Second, if I've worked my ass off trying to get a word out, I at least want the satisfaction of saying it myself. Third, interrupting is rude.
6. What if I can't understand you?
Ask me to repeat myself. Say "what?" or "huh?" You won't offend me. You will offend me if you pretend to understand what I'm saying when you don't.
7. Can I make jokes about stuttering?
No, but I can, and it's a lot of fun. For instance, if I'm having a particularly difficult day, I will wait until someone says "huh" or "say again," and I will pretend to be offended and say "DID I STUTTER?" People don't know how to respond, and I get to laugh.
Actually, some people can make jokes. The people that can make jokes wouldn't want to. It's a beautiful catch 22.
8. So if I shouldn't finish your sentences or make fun of you, what should I do?
Listen patiently (or at least as patiently as you would with anyone else), let me know if you didn't understand me, and always feel free to ask questions.
If you have any other questions, post them in the comments. I look forward to answering them.