Do's and Don'ts when Speaking with Someone Who Stutters

original author: Sara Mullenmaster, former student
revised by: Cindy S. Spillers, web master

Many people do not know how to respond to a child or adult who stutters. Some believe that telling the person to slow down, think carefully before you speak, take your time, etc., will help the person to speak more fluently. These statements do not help and often make the situation worse, especially for children. Knowing how to and how not to respond to a person's dysfluencies can really help promote more fluent speech.

Hearing somebody stutter for the first time catches us by surprise because we don't expect it. The person looks normal so we expect the person to talk normally, too. Often a listener's first reaction is surprise and shock. When we are surprised by something, our faces show it: our eyes get big and our jaw drops open. Stuttering can be uncomfortable to listen to, making us want to turn our heads or back away from the situation, as well. When caught in an uncomfortable, surprising situation, some people react by laughing because they are not sure what response to have. When young children stutter adults sometimes think they are stuttering on purpose and the adults will become angry with the child. It is important to recover from this initial shock quickly, realize that the person is not pretending or stuttering on purpose, and to regain composure so that we can take control of our reactions and act with intention. The follow general suggestions will help regardless of whether the person who stutters is a child or adult. The Stuttering Foundation of America (SFA) has a variety of resources and publications that contain helpful suggestions.

General Suggestions:

Specific suggestions for children who stutter:

Many of the suggestions above also apply to teachers. In addition, teachers can take other steps to help make the child who stutters feel comfortable in the classroom instead of feeling anxious and self-conscious.

What Teachers Can Do:

It is important to remember that there is no difference between people who stutter and people who do not stutter except for difficulty getting words out. People who stutter, need patience and acceptance from family, friends, and teachers. The suggestions provided can help parents, teachers, and others provide a nurturing environment that promote fluency for the dysfluent person.


Revised June 2011

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