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What is Covert Stammering?

Some people who stammer go to great lengths to avoid stammering in front of others. Find out why and read about the effects this can have.

It's not always obvious that someone stammers. This is because a lot of people who stammer find ways to minimise or hide it if they can some or all of the time. One of the reasons they might do this to avoid any negative reactions if they stammer.

They might:

  • avoid using certain words
  • scan sentences ahead in their mind for sounds they might stammer on
  • substitute feared words for others that are easier to say
  • try to hide a moment of stammering by pretending something else is happening
  • say less
  • Avoid certain situations they know they'll find difficult.

Some people go to great lengths so that no one finds out that they stammer. They'll be doing the things listed above so much so that you might not hear them stammer at all. They might 'pass' as a fluent speaker. This is sometimes called 'covert' stammering, or 'interiorised' or 'hidden' stammering.

Emotional effects

If someone's stammer isn't obvious, it can still be very much on their minds. Doing everything you can not to stammer can be hard work. It's the emotional side of things that's key here. The negative thoughts, feelings and constant work to hide the stammer.

Someone who is 'passing as fluent' even though they stammer might:

  • have strong negative feelings about stammering
  • worry that people will find out they stammer
  • feel constantly on edge and stressed by the need to avoid stammering
  • have few people in their life that know they stammer
  • feel ashamed of what they see as their 'secret' stammer.

If you stammer and are passing as fluent, it can be hard for other people to understand how it makes you feel. People might reassure you that they never knew you stammered so it 'can't be that bad'. This can leave you feeling like you're making an unnecessary fuss.

In extreme cases you may have been so 'successful' in hiding it, people don't believe you stammer at all. This can be very frustrating and painful, as it effectively denies your experiences. Just because your stammer is hidden it doesn't mean it's not affecting you.

Pretending to be fluent was stressful and exhausting. It dominated my life and dictated what I did and didn't do.

Read Paul's story

Help change this for people who stammer

If you don't stammer, you can play a big part in changing this. Knowing how to respond and make space for people who stammer can make all the difference. 

See our Guides For Non-stammerers. There are tips for speaking with people who stammer and creating stammer-friendly spaces.

Help & Support

If you have a covert stammer, you're not alone. It's surprisingly common. And you're definitely not weird. See Help For Your Stammer for some things you can do. 

Meeting other people who stammer, including those with covert stammering, can be life-changing. You can share experiences and build confidence among people who 'get it'. See Communities & Groups to see if there's something near you.

If it feels comfortable, call our free helpline on 0808 802 0002. Or start a webchat. All our volunteers either stammer or have a close connection to stammering.

More information

What next?

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