By Vikesh Anand, National President of the Australian Speak Easy Association, Australia’s peak body supporting people who stutter.
‘How was the weekend?’
‘Get up to much?’
‘Not really, you?’
(Phew, avoided having to say too much there. Let’s see how the rest of the day goes …)
‘Hey Vikesh, great job on that presentation today. ‘
(I don’t even remember how the presentation went today. I was so focused on my stutter – or trying to avoid the stutter – that I just read the PowerPoint slides and hoped it was enough.
And now, conference call time. This should be fun…)
‘Thanks everyone for joining. Let’s do some quick intros before we begin.’
(Can hear some chuckles. Someone saying, ‘Dude, did you forget your name?’… )
If only I could just tell my colleagues that I didn’t forget my name, it’s just the way my words come out. I have a stutter! It’s not that easy. Greater than the fear of stuttering on my name (or anything else for that matter) is the fear of judgment. If people find out I stutter, they may think I’m less intelligent, nervous or lying to them; all of which are not true.
Living with a stutter is sometimes like a secret spy mission. I go through the day hoping no one catches me stuttering on a word, or even worse: the silent block when the mouth is open but no words can escape. I scan my words in real time as I talk and try to change any potentially problematic words to an easier word, which sometimes may not actually make sense. I’m trying to live in the 99% fluent world because I am part of the 1% of people who stutter.
What can you do if you work with someone who has a stutter?
- Listen and wait for the person to finish
- Don’t try to finish their sentence
- Maintain eye contact, even if the person is stuttering
- Focus on the content, not the delivery
Stuttering is as unique as our DNA, so have a conversation with the person about stuttering and see what accommodations they would like related to their speech.
They’ll thank you for listening. For really, listening …
For more see: speakeasy.org.au.