Biden seems to fear, perhaps correctly, that voters might view him as weak if he acknowledged his stuttering. As it is, his critics and political opponents mock his speaking style and claim it’s a sign of his cluelessness or age. In truth, many of his tics — the blinks, repeated words and partial sentences — appear to be strategies for managing his stutter, as Hendrickson has written.
How can non-stutterers be helpful? I asked Hendrickson that question, and I’ll turn over the rest of this item to him:
One of the hardest things about stuttering is that it’s invisible until the moment it happens. Most people who stutter go to great lengths to hide their uneven speech patterns, from constant word switching to not talking at all, because we’re taught at such a young age that ‘fluency,’ or smooth speech, is the key to success.
As a kid, every time you stutter, you feel like you’re letting people down. Then you’re trapped in this vicious feedback loop of avoidance, shame, and low self esteem. Those feelings breed anxiety, which can make your stutter more pronounced, which can make you want to talk even less. We have to start breaking that toxic pattern during childhood.
Both stutterers and non-stutterers are constantly trying to run from momentary discomfort, and what we lose is long-term acceptance. I hid from my disorder for decades, and it’s still very new for me to openly stutter; I’m still trying to figure the whole thing out. I’ve spent the last several years working on a book about living with a stutter and I’ve been researching the latest science and speech therapy methods. I’m not at some perfectly Zen place with my stutter and not sure if I’ll ever be. There are still situations I avoid because I’m still fighting my own shame.
But I believe people are inherently good and mean well and we all just need to practice more patience. You may think you’re helping a stutterer by finishing their sentence, but, from our perspective, it’s infantilizing.
Just know that stutterers are tough. We don’t need hand-holding, or pity, or a little pat on the head when we finish speaking. Engage with us like you would any other person, look us in the eye, and approach the conversation knowing it may take a little longer, but we can still have a meaningful and substantive interaction.
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