The following letter to the editor appeared in the New Ulm Journal, New Ulm, Minnesota, on May 11, 1998, and is reproduced below with the permission of the author. It was written in response to an assignment to "do something" for National Stuttering Awareness Week. As editors will do, this letter to the editor was shortened by leaving out contact information about two important resources for people who stutter that Lisa had originally included -- the Stuttering Foundation of America, and the National Stuttering Project. But there was even a positive outcome of that unfortunate omission - a month later, the New Ulm Journal published another letter to the editor, from Jane Fraser of the Stuttering Foundation of America, providing yet another opportunity for people in south-central Minnesota to learn more about stuttering.

Stuttering awareness week

TO THE EDITOR: Imagine yourself unable to speak fluently at will. You order an item off a menu you don't like merely because it's easier to say; you sit passively in a meeting with your peers for fear of speaking, or choose your vocation or social experience based on how you speak. People who stutter don't need to imagine these situations because they have lived them or situations like them. In fact, most of us take for granted our ability to effectively communicate. As part of Stuttering Awareness Week, May 11 - 18, I would like to tell you about stuttering, provide insight on how to be a good listener and offer some valuable resources.

Stuttering is a speech disorder characterized by overt behaviors such as prolongations, repetitions, and blocking of sounds, and covert behaviors which are feelings and attitudes toward speaking, such as avoidance, tension, and anxiety. Stuttering is present in about one percent of adults and four percent of children and manifests itself differently in each individual. Stuttering almost always starts between the ages of two and five and is five times more likely to occur in boys. Although there are many theories as to what causes stuttering, it is still unclear exactly what causes it.

Stuttering may look like an easy problem that can be solved with some simple advice, but for adults it is a chronic, life-long disorder. Through intervention adults can achieve some control over their speech, but total fluency may not be a realistic goal for most adults. When someone to whom you are talking is having trouble speaking fluently, they most likely have a stuttering problem. If you are not sure how to react, you are not alone. Stuttering is often misunderstood and can cause a listener to feel anxious. If you keep the following in mind, however, the experience will be more comfortable for you and the person who stutters.

-You might be tempted to finish sentences or fill in words for the person. Please do not do this. Your action could be taken as demeaning.
-Refrain from making remarks like. "Slow down," "Take a breath," or "Relax." Such simplistic advice can be seen as patronizing and is not constructive.
-Maintain normal eye contact and try not to look embarrassed or alarmed.
-Be aware that people who stutter usually have more trouble controlling their speech on the telephone. Saying "Hello," in particular, often presents a special problem, so remember to be extra patient in this situation.
-Ask for clarification if you need it. This is preferable to pretending you understand.
-Set a relaxed pace when possible, using a moderate rate of speech for yourself.
-In general, let the person know by your manner and actions that you are listening to what he or she is saying rather than how it is being said. Be yourself. Be a good listener.
-Remember the person beyond the disability, also, teach your children to be compassionate toward persons with disabilities. For more information on stuttering, check the Mankato State Stuttering Homepage:

Lisa Arras
Graduate Student
Communications Disorders
Mankato State University

added May 13, 1998