Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to react when you meet a person who stutters

I was watching Satyamev Jayate this weekend when a blind person narrated how people don't address him directly, but ask the people with him what HE wants.  If you are thinking it has something to do with eye contact, it isn't.  Because this happens to me too.

For example, we've gone for a test at a lab.

Receptionist: Name?
Me: Sh-sh-sh-Shruthi.
Receptionist:  (Immediately turns to S) Age?
S: (Looks back pointedly and blankly at receptionist.)
Receptionist: (Back to me) Age?  (Avoids eye contact)
Me: (Answers.)

Of course, it is not pleasant to listen when somebody stutters, so people might find it comfortable to talk to someone who doesn't stutter.  But they don't realize that it can be really insulting.  I have had  people pushing a pen and a paper at me, thinking that I'd rather write my question to them than say it aloud.  You are not being helpful, people!  You are being insulting!

I know people are in a hurry, I know not everybody knows what to do when faced with someone who is not able to get words out easily.

If you're wondering whether you'll fare well if you come face to face with a person who stutters, it's simple.

1) Remember that the person in front of you is a functioning, intelligent individual, in complete possession of all his senses.

2) Don't be helpful and try and complete sentences, or suggest words. 
e.g.  "I bought this in K-k-k-"
You: Koramangala?  Commercial street? Kanpur? Kerala?

3) Let them finish at their own pace. 

4) If you did not catch something that they were saying, don't just nod and go ahead.  Ask them to repeat it.  They will also have realized that the word did not come out quite clearly, and they will repeat it for you.  If you pretend to understand, you will be caught out later, and it will be embarrassing for you :)

5) Sometimes, the facial contortions that accompany stuttering can either alarm or amuse people, as I have seen.  More of amusement.  Don't hide your smile behind your palm, or pretend that you are laughing at something else.  That's really silly!  As if we can't make out!

6) When you are faced with a person who stutters on the phone, it can be difficult to realize that the silences on the other end are not because of problems in the network.  And because of the lack of eye-contact, several people who stutter find it more difficult to speak to strangers on the phone.  Once again, as soon as you realize that these are not technical interruptions, follow the same guidelines as above. 

7) What to tell your children - if your children ask, "why does she talk like that?"  Say whatever you want - that some people find it difficult to speak easily  - but don't make it a taboo thing like "Don't ask her, don't mention it to her, shhhh.."  A stutter is nothing to be ashamed of, and the child should not get that idea.

These are not too difficult, are they?  Just common sense, I would think.  Be natural.  And don't worry, because honestly, most of the people I know, and who have turned from strangers to friends - have all reacted perfectly naturally to my stutter.  I can usually pinpoint the exact moment of enlightenment in their eyes when they discover that I stutter, and that is perfectly okay!  It is what happens after that - that separates the wheat from the chaff!

One more thing, don't hesitate to bring my stutter up in our face to face conversation.  I am not embarrassed or touchy about it (I used to be, but not anymore.)

Any questions, bring them on.   And now that this series has kicked off, I'll probably say more about it soon.


rajk said...

Hey! As before, thanks for this. This will be helpful to many, including me. These are things that one may want answers for but never knows how to ask...
On a different note, I guess the rule of not using your name on the blog is no longer valid - what with you becoming somewhat of a celebrity, huh? (newspaper articles, writing awards)
Here's to more success to you...always!

CC said...

I'm so proud of you! And you know I never imagined some of the things you've outlined can happen in real life. I wonder sometimes if the movie world is to be blamed for their insensitive portrayal of stuttering and their attempt to make only comical characters stutter.

Aarthi said...

Wow I love this post of yours Shruti!
you are such a brave person.
All that we need is to be natural right in any situation that comes our way :)

Anonymous said...

lovely said Shruthi!

Shruthi said...

RajK, glad you found it useful :) And 1) I have always used my real name on my blog, from the beginning, just wary about photographs, though :)
2) LOL at "celebrity"!
Thank you!

CC, you have noooo idea! I could tell you stories about some people in school too, which you can't imagine either.:) And yes I absolutely blame movies for making comical characters stutter, and usually these people are also stupid in the movies. Terrible.

Aarthi, Anon, thanks!

CC said...

Cannot wait to hear... Something tells me your narration will capture the subtleties very well.

parijata said...

I am so glad you brought this up. And yes, as others said, really admire you.

Radhika said...

Thanks for the post Shruthi. I used to feel guilty when the person I'm talking to stutters, thinking that I'm troubling them. Not anymore, thanks to you.

anoop said...

from all these years I have known you (online), had never pictured you to be someone who would stutter. probably because of the eloquence in your articles.

hey those captcha for comment spam are really hard.. and im 100% human! :)

Shruthi said...

CC, yeah, will probably do a post on that sometime.

Parijata, glad this helped.

Radhika, good you brought that up, because I need to know what the other person is feeling!
We love to talk too, to be heard, for our opinions to be valued :) And speaking gets easier when we get more comfortable with the person we are talking to.

Anoop, I find the captcha hard too! But I really have no choice - you should see the kind of spam I get even with the filter!

Anonymous said...

Really good one.

I can extend this to the reactions of people in general to those who are different from them.

for example: If you speak with a different accent,or if you bravely try to use a new language, then also some people talk impatiently often raising their voice as if you are hard of understanding.

It can happen if you are old, fat ill, differently dressed etc etc.

Parts of your post could be used to learn how to behave with any of these people.

Good read. Keep it up.

Achu said...

What a candid post! Loved you for your writing always. But this post makes me love you all the more. :)

Anu said...

Great to read this. Hats off to you for being so candid.

For all the years I lived in India I was hiding my deafness. It was horrible.

When I moved out and no longer had to pretend to have perfect hearing it was such a blessed relief.

My nephew stutters too and I shall be sure to pass this on to him.

rajk said...

Shruthi, sorry, somehow thought you'd wanted your name not mentioned in the blog...I realise now that it's not so. My bad.
And while I'm here...I have to agree with CC. Hindi movies (maybe other regional ones too) have ALWAYS portrayed persons who stutter as comical characters...Ok, except Shah Rukh Khan in Darr. Wait, he was the bad guy there...Well, I rest my case.

Wanderer said...

This is why I like you. This and many more such things. Such simplicity, outspokenness and open mindedness. All these days I could've never thought you stutter. And I don't find it making any difference to how I perceive you. You are the same old Shruthi.

Rajnish said...

that's a really nice post. A new perspective on stuttering.

Veena Shivanna said...

Nicely written Shruthi...

Anonymous said...

i have know people who stammers/stutters, but i have never had any problem with that.
But, i always do find it very tough to talk to a person "Eye-to-Eye" if they have a squint !!
It takes more than a couple of glances to find out the dominant eye and then talk to that one eye. And even during the conversation, my eyes move between their two eyes trying to verify if i'm still talking to the dominant eye.
Very uncomfortable for me. I wonder how they would feel.

Shruthi said...

Anon at 3:31, you are right. Anybody a little different from "ordinary." Thanks!

Achu, aww, how sweet :)

Anu, if you have the time, and if you are willing to share your story with me, I would love to hear instances of what you faced in India, and in what ways it is different now.

Rajk, LOL! My point exactly!

Wanderer, thanks! And I have a question for you in my next post :)

Rajnish, Veena, thanks!

Anon at 9:53, Hmmm... I'm guessing they'll understand.

Unknown said...

I know you through your blog and your updates in mukta balaga blog. I always thought “You are Happy Go Lucky” person. You had everything “good” in life.

Personally I didn’t get a chance to interact much with stutter in day-to-day activity. But I’m sure, I will be patient and hear them completely. Today, I got other perspective – how that person feels. Thanks for share the feeling.

I used to admire you for the way you write and the way you take care of your little kid. Now, I admire you more. Have a great day :-)


Roopa said...

Lovely post Shruth...as always.
Every time I read your blog..I feel like I have learned something good to be a better person. Thank you!
So proud of you...

Shruthi said...

Thank you Lakshmi, Roopa! :)

austere said...

I must tell you about this work acquaintance, a top shot in the finance industry who stutters-- but this doesn't stop him from asking questions on conference calls with 200 plus ppl listening...

astrosunilnomy said...

I read the post repeatedly & people comments ... truly liked it, gives some tips or general guidelines to people how to behave when they run across a person who stammers, but I feel the real question is Why react at all? Any controlled reaction is not normal & is easily mistook as acting smart gesture or may be even pity. People must just think stammers are also speakers like normal persons, but with some interruptions. They must just listen carefully as any good listener should do normally. If not understood or unclear, ask for repetitions. Speech experts have still not known the root cause of stammer or how to get rid of it completely. In my case, In fact all the speech organs were checked & confirmed that they are perfectly fine, there is no hindrance in speaking fluently. They don't know why stammer happens in some people & not other. So I feel there is nothing special care need to be taken when speaking with a person who stammers. If you see a person with wheel chair, if he/she is finding difficulty in climbing stairs or going somewhere, you may politely ask whether you can help. coz in such a situation its rude not to intervene, owing the fact that the person actually & really needs help. & Stammering persons don't need help ! - This is the point I wanted to make it loud & clear.

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