Stammering is a neurological condition which makes it physically hard to speak. Someone who stammers will repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person struggles to get the word out.
About 8% of children will stammer at some point, but most will go on to talk fluently. For up to 3% of adults it will be a lifelong condition. Stammering affects mainly men and every ethnicity.
There is no link between stammering and intellectual capacity. Like other neurological conditions, it covers a spectrum, everyone stammers differently and to different degrees. For some there’ll be periods of their life when they stammer less and others when they will struggle to speak. Many find that as they get older the condition improves.
In the UK we largely use the term stammering, elsewhere in the world the term used is stuttering.
Stammering has been used as a device to make people laugh and to indicate dishonesty or low intelligence. This stereotyping, and the frustration caused by the difficulty of talking with others, has led many to avoid stammering and find ways of sounding ‘normal’.
You may know someone who stammers ‘a little’, or be surprised to hear that someone you know well tells you that they stammer. Societal expectations mean that people will often try to avoid stammering. They will anticipate speaking situations and plan for them. They may swap a word they expect to stammer on. Or they may keep what they say to the bare minimum. They may arrive late to a meeting to avoid introducing themselves.
Because stammering has very little visibility in public life, people’s reaction when they hear a stammer can take many inappropriate forms, and people often misunderstand why someone appears to stumble when they talk, assuming it's nerves or that the person is drunk or unwell.
behind the stammer
The physical act of stammering can be a tiny part of the experience. The bigger part is often the mental machinations that someone who stammers endures. Anticipating times when they'll need to talk, the negative responses, the ever-present expectation that they need fixing or just need to breathe properly. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, anxiety and fear. Frustration that saying one’s name – the one thing that most people who stammer will find hard to say – will stymie their every encounter. The frustration of not being taken seriously.
Stammering is variable. A stammer can change from one day, hour or sentence, to the next. The daily impact of this can be disempowering: to literally have the ability to take an active part in conversations or even order a coffee, be taken away by a physical disability.
There are all kinds of help out there for people to manage a stammer, and we'll try and cover them here on this site. But we don’t know enough about what causes it. We don't understand why saying one's name can be such a hurdle, or why a stammer will go when talking in unison or singing.
Physically, stammering can be deeply frustrating, but the main problem, time and again, is other people's responses.