DARE TO ASK: Please allow a stutterer to finish
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
How do others feel about someone who stutters badly and is trying to make a
statement or ask a question while taking up your time? Should you interrupt and
Shana B., Miami
As a stutterer as a child, you should give the stutterer respect enough to
finish what he or she is trying to say. If you interrupt them, you may get hit,
smacked or kicked.
Bedo, 48, male, Straw Plains, Tenn.
It doesn't bother me when people finish my thoughts if they are nice about
it. I do get offended by the "you are wasting my time, you buffoon" attitude I
sometimes receive. If you approach it the same way you would a person who was
"looking for the right word," you should come across all right.
Kæreste, 22, female, Jacksonville
I simply look at them gently while thinking out a shopping list, and wait
till they finish -- they haven't the foggiest that you were thinking about what
to make for dinner, or how great your husband was in bed last night. Plus, they
greatly appreciate your patience.
N.D., 40, female, Michigan
If you can't spare an extra 30 seconds to spare someone's feelings, then
don't interact with anyone who is different from you.
Kate, Newport, R.I.
I prefer it if people finish a sentence for me if I can't. For whatever
reason, if I get caught on a word, I can immediately say it right if someone
else says it first.
Kris, 24, male, Williamsburg, Va.
James Earl Jones. Julia Roberts. Maya Angelou. U.S. Sen. Joe Biden. Ron
Harper. John Updike. Bo Jackson. Carly Simon. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Greg
Louganis. John Stossel.
We talked with none of them. However, they all at one time or another had
stuttering problems, which they mostly overcame to accomplish amazing things.
(Go ahead, try to imagine being an Olympic diver and a stutterer at the same
time. See? Impossible.)
What would seem a no-brainer -- we hear it's rude to interrupt anyone -- may
not always be, says Kenneth O. St. Louis, co-founder of the International
Fluency Association and a top researcher on stuttering.
"There are a few instances where stutterers like it when someone fills in
their words, especially in severe cases where they have given up on their own
ability," he said. "Usually, though, after some speech therapy and guidance on
self-esteem, most don't want someone filling in their words."
In fact, a survey of public attitudes on stuttering that St. Louis shepherded
found that most people understand they should essentially ignore the speech
impediment and wait for the person to finish.
"Filling in words is often taken by a person as they can't do it themselves
-- assuming you even can fill in their words. There are lots of instances where
someone fills in something a person has no intention of saying. I remember a
person who was trying to say 'I,' and the other person kept pointing to his eye.
So it often just doesn't help."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.