What’s going on?
I stutter (or “stammer”). It’s just hard for me to talk. What you see and hear are my struggles to get my mouth to do what I want.
No, I am not struggling to think. I’m usually about a paragraph ahead of my mouth.
It doesn’t hurt. But it is tiring. Unless I’m having a good day — see below — I don’t do much talking for the fun of it.
Do you mind talking about it?
No, not in the least. If this FAQ doesn’t answer your question, just ask.
Should I finish your sentence?
There are times when I would be very grateful, particularly if the circumstances call for haste, or if I’m really blocked.
There are other times when it is irritating, and feels to me like an expression of impatience or disrespect. (Honestly, I don’t blame you for being impatient. Stuttering is no fun for me, but I know it’s no fun for you either.)
Whatever you do, please, please, don’t get it wrong:
- I have to talk over you and/or start all over again, and it was hard enough the first time.
- In some cases, your mistaken assumption about what I’m about to say makes either you or me look bad. Not good either way.
Overall, prudent hesitation seems like the right approach to me.
Is there anything else I can do to help?
Relax. I’ll get the words out eventually. And if you’re relaxed, it’s easier for me to relax — see below. Please don’t tell me to relax though. That’s just patronizing.
Your stutter seems better or worse sometimes. What’s up with that?
Speech is the most complex physical activity that people perform. To do it well, you must coordinate over 200 muscles with millisecond timing.
All of the things that make coordinated physical activity harder make my stutter worse — fatigue, stress, anxiety. The things that make physical activity easier mean that I talk better — rest, relaxation, focus. Sometimes I’m just in the zone. Sometimes I’m really not. Happily, I talk better in emergencies; perhaps less happily, I also talk better when I’m angry (just ask my children).
Also, I find certain sounds harder to say than others. This is broadly true for all stutterers, but the specifics vary from person to person. I have no idea why I decided to marry a woman whose name begins with “L.”
Have you tried ___?
Probably. I don’t mind talking about it, and you may have heard of something I have not, but please don’t be offended if I cut you off. The odds that you have randomly found something I haven’t explored are pretty low.
Three different bouts of speech therapy have helped me to be fluent for varying periods. None of those periods lasted more than 6 months. I do know what fluency feels like — it’s awesome.
Alcohol helps, in the right amount (during my college years I developed some expertise in this area). Other substances, both legal and not, have also worked, but had side effects that I was not willing to tolerate.
For several years I wore a device that blasted a loud noise into my ears when and while I spoke. This worked really well for a year or so, and pretty well for several years more, but gradually stopped having any effect.
And, weirdly enough, I can sing.
Why haven’t I heard anyone who talks like you before?
Good question. About 1% of humans have a speech impediment of some sort, of which stuttering is one of the most common varieties. This is true worldwide.
That’s a lot of stutterers (about 80% of whom are male, curiously). But the vast majority – something like 90% – stop stuttering around puberty. With decent modern speech therapy, that percentage goes above 95%. If you have met someone who talks like me, odds are it was a kid.
Adult stutterers vary greatly in the severity of their impediment. Joe Biden stutters, but it’s easy to miss. I’m, um, really good at stuttering. People like me usually try to arrange their lives so they don’t have to talk to strangers. I assume I’m just more stubborn/perverse/thick-skinned than most.
If you continue to be curious, I highly recommend the 2010 movie The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth. It felt very authentic.