Happy Friday! Today, I hope to give you just a few key things to look for when you suspect that someone stutters. Identifying a stutter can be difficult, because everyone stutters in his own uniquely beautiful way. Of course, my goal is not to magnify all of the symptoms to draw your attention to the stutter. My goal is to point out the symptoms to help you look beyond the stutter. Once you understand what’s happening, it helps to put both you and the person who stutters at ease.
The first way someone may stutter is by prolongation. If you find yourself speaking to someone who seems to stretch out certain sounds-particularly, the first vowel in the word-he probably has a stutter. For example, if someone asks me for my name, I might stretch the first vowel by saying “M-a-a-a-kenzie,” instead of just “Makenzie.” Prolongation helps me to ease into the word until it slips out, instead of building even greater tension by forcing it. It is also one of the less exhausting forms of stuttering, which is always a bonus!
A second thing to listen for is repetition, probably one of the most recognizable and most common signs of stuttering. Unlike prolongation, repetition might happen anywhere in a word. Someone who stutters might go back and repeat one sound several times, or he might blend many sounds together. If he is trying to say “Congratulations,” he might say “C-C-Congratulations,” or he might say “Congrat-Congrat-Congratulations.” Writing about this form of stuttering reminds me of the wonderful quote: “Stuttering is OK! Because what I say is worth repeating.”
A third sign to listen for is an unusual amount of filler words, such as um, and, like, or so. Everyone tends to use some of these words, but someone using them to avoid stuttering might say them over and over again within seconds. He might also use them where they don’t seem to make sense, such as before saying his name or age. Using extra words is somewhat of an avoidance technique for stuttering, rather than a stutter itself. For example, someone who feels tension building might reach for a filler word right away: “I’m, se-(tension), um. . .se-, um. . .seventeen.” This is a technique I use quite often. In essence, I use filler words to stall the listener until I feel the tension release. It’s a way to avoid the awkward silence as they wait for my response. However, I’m trying to break this habit because I’m slowly learning that silence is okay. The more silence, the more time I have to think through whether what I’m about to say is kind and uplifting.
A block is one of the easiest forms to explain, but one of the most exhausting to experience. A block is exactly what it sounds like. Someone experiencing a block will most likely remain completely silent; however, you might hear the first attempt at the word. In an earlier blog post, I compared the mouth to a gate. Once the tension against that gate grows strong enough to force it open, the sound finally breaks through. If someone asks me for my dog’s name, I might say “T. . .(silence). . .(silence). . .eddy.” By the time the word comes out, I feel absolutely exhausted. . .but always thankful.
Another thing to look for is substitution. Substituting an easier word for a difficult word is another avoidance technique that I employ very often. If you notice that someone frequently rearranges or changes his words mid-sentence, he might have a stutter. Many people use substitution just to make speaking a little easier, but the sad thing about this technique is that someone might find himself using it out of shame. Since he knows he will stutter on a certain word, he might completely change his order and end up with a meal he didn’t really want. This is something I am asking the Lord to help me with. With the help of my family and my speech therapist, I am learning to accept my words just as they are. Most of all, I am learning that there’s no shame in stuttering.
Some last things to look for are unusual habits during speaking. For example, someone trying to get out of a stutter may stare at the floor, run out of breath, wring his hands together, speak very slowly, or dart his eyes around the room. Not everyone has habits like these, but if you ever see them, you might be speaking with someone who stutters.
I hope that this post has been a help to you. If you ever notice one of these signs, please be patient and let that person know that you understand and accept what’s happening. Thank you so much for reading this post. I know it was long, and it means so much that you took time out of your day to read it.
Much love, Makenzie