Specifically, holding eye contact during a stutter. It might sound simple, but this small bit of body language packs a hefty punch, with positive effects on both the production and perception of stuttered speech. For the person who stutters, holding eye contact can bring about a feeling of intention and control. It gives the body something to do, a proactive move to combat the loss-of-control moment of a block.
But it also telegraphs confidence and nonchalance to the listener. Eye contact helps hold their attention throughout a stutter, indicating that "I'm not finished yet." In this way, it "normalizes" the stutter (to both speaker and listener) as a no-big-deal part of the conversation. Which is a potent shame-buster! By building their capacity for eye contact, many of our clients have found that it's easier to "stay in the moment” and move forward with their speech.
How to do it:
Start out with a mirror. Ask your client to assess their eye contact while speaking. What aspects do they feel like they can improve upon? If direct eye contact is too much, start with slight alterations to body posture, like looking up from the floor or turning shoulders toward the listener. Sitting side-by-side, have your client practice these moves with their reflection while making small talk. Then turn to one another and try the same thing. Eventually, eye contact can be moved outside of the therapy room, as an objective for outside speaking challenges.
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, and Los Angeles, CA, and services are also available online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.
Gregory Scott, M.A., CCC-SLP
Gregory joined the AIS staff in 2021. He lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he is excited to expand AIS services for people who stutter and their families on the West Coast.