Editorial: Supporting those who stutter

International Stuttering Awareness Day is Oct. 22

Regardless of politics, this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) feels a little more timely with a presidential candidate’s stutter nudged into the spotlight.

About 1 percent of the world’s population lives with stuttering, a speech disorder where verbal flow is involuntarily interrupted by prolonged or repeated sounds. ISAD’s annual Oct. 22 observance is organized by the European League of Stuttering Associations, International Fluency Association and International Stuttering Association to raise greater public awareness of the unique issues millions face every day.

Stuttering isn’t fatal. It isn’t painful. It is largely invisible. But it complicates everyday exchanges others take for granted, from small talk with gas-station attendants to ordering takeout to just saying one’s own name. And stuttering can be shrouded in hurt, since too many conversations about it are still cheap punchlines or low-hanging fruit ripe for bullies’ picking. 

This year might be a little easier for people who stutter (or PWS, which can also stand for “person who stutters;” unlike “stutterer,” PWS prioritizes the person over the disorder) to initiate a conversation about their experiences. But that doesn’t mean it’s instantly easier for a PWS to navigate the stigma, embarrassment and impulse to withdraw into silence that can accompany living with a stutter. After a lifetime of being shamed for how they speak, it can be difficult for PWS to share what they have to say. 

But stuttering offers opportunities as unique as its challenges. It can be an invaluable lesson in patient, active listening and empathy without pity. It requires a cultivated bravery, thicker skin or healthy doses of humor when every spoken word has the potential to rob a PWS of their verbal agency. It can lead to a hidden reservoir of both inner strength and untapped talents. 

To learn more about ISAD, visit isastutter.org. Both stutteringhelp.org and westutter.org are filled with helpful resources, too. The former even keeps a list of famous people who stutter to show how unstoppable a PWS can be. 

And it is that resolve born of besting unique hurdles that we should be celebrating this Oct. 22.