Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Is Stammering?

What Is Stammering?

Here are some things that may happen to your talking - things that you might do when you stammer:

  • Stammering interrupts talking. It is like tripping up in your own mouth and sometimes, like tripping up, you can "save yourself" and sometimes it feels impossible
  • It feels as if you can't help it - it just happens - sometimes it happens without any warning and other times it happens on particular words or at important moments
  • You may just keep repeating ("p-p-p-p-please"), sometimes the whole word is repeated ("my-my-my-my-my name is") or a phrase ("my name is my name is my name is")
  • You may have this kind of repetition, but also find that a sound just keeps on going and you can't move on to the next bit of the word, "ssssssssee what I mean?"
  • Perhaps you find that the word or the beginning sound gets completely stuck, and nothing comes out at all "!!!". When this happens, the other person might not even know that you were trying to speak. It can be very frustrating and embarrassing
  • There are all sorts of ways of stammering, most of them are very uncomfortable and upsetting
  • You may have developed clever tricks to stop it happening. For example, finding a different word that isn't so hard or putting an extra word or sound in first. At other times you might just avoid the word or the situation altogether
  • Whatever you do you will be trying to stop the stammer getting in your way

There are other things that happen because of the stammering:

  • Stammering can be very tiring. It takes a lot of energy (both physical and mental), your breathing can be difficult and you may find that you tense up some muscles in your neck, mouth, chest or hands and body
  • It is often embarrassing and frustrating, and you may find that in some situations you get nervous about speaking
  • Maybe you think they will be feeling sorry for you or, worse still, they might find it funny. Sometimes you may even think that you know exactly what they are thinking. That will make you try harder to stop the stammering and of course the harder you try to stop the stammer, the worse it usually gets. This is called a vicious cycle. Most people who stammer will know this feeling

What Causes Stammering?

We don't really know yet. Scientists have been working for years to try and find out whether there is a cause and whether there is a cure. So far all that has been agreed is that the problem is highly complicated.

Stammering is probably not caused by one single thing for a person - it is more likely that it is the result of very many factors. More importantly, the ingredients of stammering are probably different for every person who has a stammer. And the things that help stammering may be slightly different for everyone too.

This diagram shows the four different areas which may influence your stammer, some of which may apply to you.
Physical factors

  • Do you have other blood relatives who stammer?
  • Do you have difficulty in concentrating or organising yourself?
  • Do you ever find yourself thinking faster than you can speak?

Speech and language factors

  • Do you have difficulty finding the right words?
  • Did you have trouble learning to talk or were you advanced for your age?
  • Did you have difficulty making sounds for speech?
  • Are you a fast talker?


This is linked to everything around you - home, school, friends, enemies, etc! These don't cause the stammering, but may affect how much you stammer.

  • Is there competition to speak at home or at school?
  • Are people around you in a rush?
  • Do you get teased?


  • Do you worry about things?
  • Do you keep problems to yourself?
  • Is it important to you to get things right?
  • Are you sensitive to what others think?

For most people it is a combination of some of these factors that, when added together, make it more likely that they will stammer.

Read on for advice about coping with stammering from children who stammer...

Tips For Fluency From Children Who Stammer

You may have found that you can do things which help your talking. Here are some ideas from children who have attended the Michael Palin Centre. When you are getting stuck with your talking:

  • Try to take your time rather than rushing
  • Speak a bit more slowly
  • Say what you want to say
  • Be patient with yourself and say what you want to say
  • Pause for a moment before you start to speak
  • Don't always expect the worst - sometimes it goes well
  • Remember to congratulate yourself for trying things out
  • Try to have a go at things
  • Don't force the words - it just makes them harder to say
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Give yourself a few treats
  • The faster you try to speak the less you will manage to say
  • Try not to bottle out!

Maybe you have tried some ideas and found them helpful.
Remember, you can't do all of these things all of the time - perhaps you could pick one you know works and try to do it a little more often, or perhaps try a new one!

Watch out for tricks

You may have tried out some things to stop stammering which may have helped to start with, but aren't working any longer. For instance:

  • Changing words
  • Avoiding certain speaking situations
  • Taking a deep breath before talking
  • Breaking eye contact with the person who is listening
  • Tapping with your hand or foot
  • Nodding your head or moving your body
  • Adding in extra sounds or words

These tricks are often hard work and when they don't work, they don't help. In fact sometimes they make communicating even harder because people may not understand what you say and then you have to try again...

Problem Solving

You may be having a problem with something, not necessarily to do with talking. Perhaps you have tried dealing with it, but it is no good, the problem is still there. Here is a way of finding some new ideas which might help...

The steps

1. Ask some people to help you get some ideas to solve your problem

2. Make sure that the problem is yours, not someone else's; i.e. it has to be something that you can change. Get a big piece of paper and, in the middle, write a sentence starting with "my problem is..."; for example "how to keep my room tidy" or "how to get my homework in on time"

3. Everyone throws in all their ideas, the more imaginative the better. All suggestions are written on the piece of paper - they are not discussed or judged until later

4. Then consider each option in turn: "what would happen if I...?" This helps you decide which ideas to leave in and which ones to bin. No one else should comment or advise unless it is really necessary

5. Chuck out any ideas that you have already tried which didn't work or any which could cause you more problems than they would solve (eg. kicking someone who teased you!). You should end up with five or six choices

6. Now number your choices in the order in which you would like to try them. First, second, third, etc. Are there any that you would put together? Make a new list with your choices written out in order

7. As soon as you can, try out number one and decide how helpful that was and whether it is worth another go. Or, if that didn't work, try number two and so on

8. Keep your list handy, even when the problem is solved, in case the same thing crops up again and you want a reminder

Coping With Teasing

Lots of children have problems with teasing. Here are some problem solving ideas which the children from one of our courses came up with:

  • Write in a school "problem box"
  • Tell a friend
  • Call a hotline (eg. BSA hotline)
  • Ask them to stop
  • Walk away
  • Tell the mother of the person who is teasing you
  • Ignore them
  • Punch the person
  • Make an excuse and leave the situation
  • Tell your mum and dad
  • Tell your teacher
  • Tease back
  • Cry
  • Avoid them
  • Talk to someone else
  • Stick with your friends
  • Agree with them

Some of them are a bit mad, some are not very practical, but some are quite sensible!

Why not pick out the six ideas that you think are best and try them out next time? If one doesn't work for you, then try another. You'll feel better just having some ideas.

Have a go!

Top Tips For Teenagers

Below you can find lots of good advice for teenagers who stammer. Indeed some of this advice was suggested by teenagers who have come to the Centre in the past.

  • More haste, less speech
  • People are more interested in what you have to say than how you are saying it
  • Make a list of the things you are good at
  • Notice other people's communication skills - no one is perfect!
  • You can't mind-read - imagining the worst doesn't help
  • Notice the colour of people's eyes when you talk to them - this will help you to maintain eye contact
  • You can help others feel relaxed. Smile and try to look relaxed (even if your stomach is all knots and butterflies)
  • To stop people asking you questions - ask them something first (e.g. "where do you live, work, go to school etc?")
  • The harder you try not to stammer, the worse it gets - go with the flow
  • Use pauses to give yourself time
  • Try to talk about your stammer to someone today
  • Mention the stammer in passing as if you are not concerned about it!
  • Notice those things that seem to help - and do some more
  • Praise yourself for having a go at something you usually avoid
  • Noticing something you have done well is better than self-criticism
  • Be fair to yourself
  • Try to avoid self-talk which includes 'I must' and 'I should' - try 'I might have a go' and 'I could try to'
  • Set one small but achievable goal today - and pat yourself on the back
  • Notice the times when you stammer less, rather than concentrating on when it is worse
  • Don't start speaking until you are ready
  • Say a little more than you usually do
  • When you mind less about your stammering, you often stammer less too
  • Smile a bit more; this will help others feel relaxed
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway!
  • Worrying about what others might be thinking is very unhelpful - you could be wrong
  • Can you really read other peoples' minds? Do you really know what other people think about your speech?
  • Do most people know you stammer? Try not to hide it from them
  • Is everyone nasty about stammering? Or are some people just nasty?