Would You Take a Magic Pill to Cure Your Stutter? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another stutterer among our readers, Roisin McManus, emails hello@:

This is in response to the question of “the magic pill”—a topic debated in our stuttering community for years, sometimes usefully, sometimes not. Thank you for the forum!

I began stuttering when I was three, when I began speaking. I have never stopped stuttering. I have never spoke fluently without the constant word switching and willful silences that so many stutterers know.

After all this time, I believe that this is my innate way of speaking, my language. It is not unique, because 1-2 percent of the world speaks this language—across centuries, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses. I suspect there will be no magic pill to absolve any of us from our innate way of speaking, the same way there is no magic pill to absolve a man of his innate way of loving, or a black woman of her melanin. Instead, there are ways to change the way we view each other, and allow for diversity of speaking, appearance, sexuality, and opinion.

I’m sick of the magic pill question. I would rather talk about why a kid who stutters does not feel comfortable in the world.

And another reader, Yasmine Amin, sends probably the most eloquent email yet (followed by a note from Emma Alpern, whose piece sparked this whole thread):

For a long time I felt as though my stutter was robbing me of the person I wanted to be. I was the shy girl who didn’t really say much, which in today’s world is somehow synonymous with not knowing much, and I was always viewed as less capable.

My stutter has accompanied me throughout every inch of my life. It never gave me a break. I chose my food at restaurants based on what I could say during that specific moment. I spelled out words sometimes because I couldn’t think of a different way to say something (this got me some questionable looks). I became so used to hearing the infamous, “Oh it’s just nerves, I also stutter sometimes.” This frustrated me because people didn’t realize is that there is a huge difference between fluent speakers who stumble sometimes due to nerves or anxiety, and those who stutter on a daily basis—even when speaking with a sibling or parent.

Although I do have some resentment towards my stutter and the hard time it continues to give me, it is actually something I have come to view as a blessing.

My stutter made me wise. When you stutter you tend to speak only when completely necessary and that has its perks. All the times I spent silent, I was observing the world. As a result, I was always more wise than most people my age.

My stutter made me a better listener. By learning how to control the urge to speak, I have naturally become more interested in what others have to say. This has increased my curiosity and expanded my knowledge. Susan Cain puts it perfectly, “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.”

My stutter made me a better writer. Whenever I couldn’t speak, my journal was my best friend. I wrote and wrote and wrote, until I had nothing left to say. There’s something about putting your words down on paper that makes you grow, both as a writer and a person.

My stutter made me more understanding. Whenever I see anyone struggling, I sympathize with them because I struggle every day. I know what it feels like to give it your all and fail, I know what it feels like to get bullied, and I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. Helping people feel less alone has always been rewarding.

My stutter has expanded my vocabulary. I’m a walking thesaurus, since I am forced to replace certain words I can’t say during a conversation with other words.

But above all, my stutter taught me the importance of proving people wrong through actions rather than words. People have always viewed me as less capable because of my stutter and I used that as a catalyst to prove them wrong. I couldn’t tell them that I was capable. So instead, I showed them. Through this I have learned the most important lesson: Let your actions speak for you.

My stutter has given me more than it has taken away. I hope everyone who stutters can get to a point where they can confidently say that.

Here’s Alpern with a final note:

The magic pill question is interesting to think about, but I worry that it divides us into camps. And such a pill is just not a reality, and stuttering is complex enough that it probably never will be.

So what now? Luckily, there are lots of other ways that we can go about changing the experiences of people who stutter at this moment. How can we become more comfortable with the way we talk? How can we better support each other? How can we advocate for our voices? How can we reach stutterers who feel alone?

I think it’s really interesting that some readers brought up inspiration. I agree that I’m not here to inspire people with a story about overcoming OR accepting my stutter. Hopefully “embracing” stuttering can mean more than that, for those who choose to go that route. For me, at least, it was liberating to run toward stuttering after trying to get it out of my speech for so long.

I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to know other people who stutter after years of knowing no one. The connections I’ve made almost put the thought of a magic pill out of my mind. The National Stuttering Association, Did I Stutter, FRIENDS (an organization for young people who stutter), and SAY (the Stuttering Association for the Young) are all great places to start.