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Stuttering is when a person involuntarily repeats or struggles to make a particular sound when speaking. Although research into the causes of stutters is ongoing, scientists have identified several possible causes. It appears that stuttering could be related to speech-motor control, which also means that stutters often run in the family. However, stutters can also occur as a result of neurological damage, or in some cases, be brought on or exacerbated by mental health issues.

Although they pose no threat to a person’s physical health, stutters can make people feel very self-conscious and cause them to become withdrawn. This can have adverse effects on their mental health. International Stuttering Awareness Day is taking place on 22nd October this year, so in order to raise awareness of these issues and encourage positive, proactive behaviour, we have decided to outline several ways you can make someone who has a stutter feel at ease.

Don’t Give Instructions

When someone is stuttering, it may seem as though they are nervous. While this is certainly possible, it is definitely not always the case, so don’t assume so. You may feel as though you are being helpful if you try to calm them down by telling them to relax, or that there’s no need to be nervous. This is not only incredibly rude, but it will probably make the person much more nervous, and make the situation worse. Despite the fact that you think you are being helpful, all you are doing is drawing attention to something that they’re well aware of. Furthermore, it just flat out doesn’t work. Telling someone with a stutter to “relax” is akin to telling someone with a peanut allergy to “Just try one”.

Dial It Back (A Little)

Fast speakers can make those who stutter more aware of their impediment, so slowing down your speech a little bit can help put them more at ease. This technique should be a subtle way to coordinate your pacing, and as Irish people have a tendency to speak very quickly, it is an important point to note. But understand that stuttering does not in any way affect a person’s ability to understand you, so don’t talk down to them by speaking too slowly. The point of slowing down isn’t to help them understand you, but rather to put them at ease in an indirect way.

Be Attentive

It might take a while for them to get their words out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be just as attentive as you would otherwise. This is especially important these days, as we are all so used to checking our phones every few minutes. While you may not think this is a big deal, it can be very distressing to have everyone you speak to look away or do something else when you’re trying to hold a conversation. Make an active effort to let the person know you are interested by maintaining eye contact, and just ignore the fact that there are gaps in the conversation. They aren’t done speaking until the sentence is finished, so don’t act like they are.

Maintain Good Phone Manner

Most people who have a stutter will find that it is more pronounced over the telephone. This could be a psychological effect, since the phone relies solely on the sounds of our voices. While texting and video calling can help overcome this, there will be times when phone calls are inevitable, so be bear this in mind and be extra patient, making sure not to interrupt.

Don’t Finish for Them

Although we already said not to give instructions, this deserves a section of its own. If someone has a stutter, do not try to finish their words or sentences. This is one of the rudest and most frustrating reactions people get when they have a stutter, so just don’t do it.