Recent surveys of our members showed that stammering can have a significant impact on a person’s career, social life and mental and emotional well-being. But is this backed up with concrete academic research?
Numerous studies show that children who stammer may be at a higher risk of bullying than children who do not stammer, starting from the pre-school years through to adolescence. In the Langevin, Packman and Onslow 2009 pre-school study, they observed the behaviour of non-stammering children towards stammering children while playing together. They found that although most children responded neutrally or positively, some responses were negative. In a study by Langevin, Bortnick, Hammer and Weibe (1998) involving 28 school-aged children who stammer, 57% reported being teased or bullied.
Blood and Blood (2004) compared experiences of bullying between 53 adolescents who stammered and 53 who didn’t. 43% of adolescents who stammered had experienced bullying in the previous week compared with only 11% of adolescents who did not stammer. In a survey of 267 adults who stammer by Hugh-Jones and Smith (1999), 83% reported being bullied when they were at school.
In summary, a substantial number of children and teenagers who stammer are likely to experience negative reactions from others because of their stammering, which in turn will affect their attitude towards themselves and their stammer.
Unsurprisingly, people who stammer can develop strong negative thoughts and feelings about their stammering and many studies have supported this. In 1998, Corcoran and Stewart carried out in-depth interviews with adults who stammer and identified suffering as the principal theme, with people reporting feelings of helplessness, shame and fear, and resorting to avoidance as a way to hide their stammering. These findings were supported by more recent studies from Tudor, Davis, Brewin and Howell (2013); Craig, Blumgart and Tran (2009) and Iverach and Rapee (2014).
Stammering is a significant vocational handicap (Hurst and Cooper, 1983). Many employers hold negative attitudes towards people who stammer (Hurst and Cooper, 1983a) and this can impact on the likelihood of successful recruitment or promotion. Klein and Hood (2004) examined the impact of stammering on job performance and employability. Of the 232 adults who took part, 70% agreed that stammering reduced one’s chances of being hired or promoted. More than 33% believed stammering interfered with their job performance and 20% had turned down a job or promotion because of their stammering.
Research by Butler in 2014 indicates that people who stammer face daily, casual discrimination at work; that the normal recruitment process with interviews works against them and that they often do not achieve their potential but instead ‘settle’ for menial jobs with little communication demands.
Impact on Quality of Life
Quality of life can be described as the general well-being of a person or society, defined in terms of health and happiness. People who stammer frequently report a reduced quality of life and that the ability to fulfil their life ambitions has been limited.
Craig, Blumgart and Tran’s 2009 study compared a group of 200 adults who stammered with a group of 200 adults who didn’t stammer. Both groups were asked to rate on a scale their quality of life. The results showed that stammering negatively affects vitality (a measure of a person’s energy levels or fatigue); social functioning (the extent to which social activities are affected); emotional functioning (the extent to which a person’s emotional problems impact on daily and work activities) and mental health. These results were mirrored in the study by Crichton-Smith (2002), where a group of adults who stammer reported that stammering had limited their lives in the areas of employment, education and self-esteem.
Many of the consequences of stammering described above have been brought together in a recent review by Connery, McCurtin and Robinson (2019). The review pools the results of 17 papers, all reporting on the lived experiences of adults who stammer, providing further evidence of ‘the profound and predominantly negative impact that stuttering has on individuals’ experiences’ (p.1).
It isn’t all doom and gloom. Research has shown that people who stammer bring particular strengths such as empathy and compassion for others, personal growth, strength of character, resilience and creativity (Hughes and Strugella, 2013). Butler (2014) also identifies strengths such as ‘listening intelligence’. This ties in with Brocklehurst’s 2014 study where he reports ‘Respondents identified a variety of strengths associated with their stammering and a number of ways in which their stammering had a positive impact on others.’
It is clear from the research that stammering can have a significant and long-term impact on people’s lives. The newly launched Stamma campaign has an important role to play in reducing stigma and increasing awareness, to create a better world for people who stammer.
Blood, G. W., & Blood, I. M. (2004). Bullying in adolescents who stutter: Communicative competence and self-esteem. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 31, 69–79
Brocklehurst, P. (2014). The hidden strengths of people who stutter. www.stammeringresearch.org
Butler, C. (2014). Wanted: Straight talkers – stammering and aesthetic labour. Work, Employment & Society, 28, 5, 718-734
Connery, A., McCurtin, A., & Robinson, K. (2019). The lived experience of stuttering: A synthesis of qualitative studies with implications for rehabilitation, Disability and Rehabilitation, DOI: 10.1080/09638288.2018.1555623
Corcoran, J. A., & Stewart, M. (1995). Therapeutic experiences of people who stutter. Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, 19, 89–96
Craig, A., Blumgart, E., & Tran, Y. (2009). The impact of stuttering on the quality of life in adults who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 34(2), 61–71
Crichton-Smith, I. (2002). Communicating in the real world: Accounts from people who stammer. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 27(4), 333–351
Hugh-Jones, S., & Smith, P. (1999). Self-reports of short and long-term effects of bullying on children who stammer. British Journal ofEducational Psychology, 69, 141–158.
Hughes, S., and Strugalla, E. (2013). Recognizing positive aspects of stuttering: A survey of the general public. Poster presented at Stuttering Attitudes Research Symposium, Morgantown.
Hurst, M.A. & Cooper, E.B. (1983) Employer attitudes toward stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 8, 1–12
Hurst, M.A. & Cooper, E.B. (1983a). Vocational rehabilitation counsellors’ attitudes toward stuttering. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 8, 13–27
Iverach, L., & Rapee, R. M. (2014). Social anxiety disorder and stuttering: Current status and future directions. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 40, 69–82.
Klein, J.F. & Hood, S.B. (2004). The impact of stuttering on employment opportunities and job performance. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 29, 4, 255-273
Langevin, M., Bortnick, K., Hammer, T., & Weibe, E. (1998). Teasing/bullying experienced by children who stutter: Toward development of a questionnaire. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 25, 12–24.
Langevin, M., Packman, A., & Onslow, M. (2009). Peer Responses to Stuttering in the Preschool Setting. American Journal of Speech Lang Pathology, 18(3), 264–276.
Tudor, H., Davis, S., Brewin, C. R., & Howell, P. (2013). Recurrent involuntary imagery in people who stutter and people who do not stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 38(3), 247–259.