Living with a severe stammer

A man leaning against a fence in the countryside looking at the camera

24th June 2021

*Note: this article is more than 5 years old and contains language that is of its time. Since our Find The Right Words campaign in 2020, today we try and to use words that are more neutral, so we would avoid using the word 'severe'. See our Editorial Guidelines for more information.*

We invited people with severe stammers to tell us their stories. Here's what they wrote. 

More balanced outlook wanted

Gordon's story

Having had a stammer all my life, I am now in my mid 50s so it's frustrating now to find yourself with little to show for it after all these years.

I was adopted at six weeks of age and I always thought the trauma of that may have had something to do with the stammering, but who knows.

I have tried most techniques through the years, like NHS speech therapy while at school, and in adult life I've tried everything, even hypnosis. You name it, I've done it.

Although I've stammered less for various spells in my life after using different techniques, they all only last for short spells and I always ended up being back at square one. How long can you keep yourself going, pushing yourself by dogged determination so that eventually you ask yourself is it really worth all the effort? Well, at present I just try to accept my stammer as it is, as it seems in general to be going back to what it was when in the early days at school.

Much as it's good to read of people's success stories, I believe there are many of us where every day is a real big struggle.

Most of the time I speak only when I need to, saving my energy, and always have a notepad and pen on me for any ultra difficult situations like bus, shops, doctors etc.

Well in summing up, I've been very honest about my stammer which on most occasions is as severe as it is now. Much as it's good to read of people's success stories in Speaking Out (our old magazine), I believe there are many of us where every day is a real big struggle.

Now I've joined the British Stammering Association (BSA (now STAMMA)) I hope they give a balanced outlook, taking into consideration those of us who have and will have a severe stammer all our days and that's the reality of the situation.

A group of people on a bench looking at the camera

Immense difficulty & avoidance

Tim's story

I'm Tim, aged 45. I have stammered since I was a child. School was very difficult for me. At registration every day, you had to call out "Yes Sir" or a register number. I would get stuck on this every time. My teachers at the time were very strict and unsympathetic, and would often reprimand me for this which, of course, made me feel even worse. The bullying which I suffered at the hands of other children was truly awful. They would regularly surround me in the playground, kicking and punching me while chanting "stuttering parrot".

My adult life has been a world of immense difficulty and avoidance. Thankfully, many railway stations now have ticket machines, so at least in this case I don't have to stammer to somebody behind a plate-glass window. Using the bus, however, is more difficult for me, where you often still have to speak to the driver or conductor. I have avoided going out for a drink ever since the time I was refused service in a pub because the barman mistook my stammering for me being drunk. Using the phone is, of course, my most difficult situation, because you can't nod and shake your head, and use other physical gestures as a substitute for saying difficult words.

I have tried speech therapy several times over the years. Unfortunately, however, for some reason, my stammer has remained resistant to it. I could become very fluent within the safe environment of the clinic. But as soon as I went back into the outside world again, for some reason my stammer would return.

I have tried speech therapy several times over the years, but my stammer has remained resistant to it.

So I was very glad when I found out about the BSA. Since I joined, I have received a lot of help and support for which I am eternally thankful. I always enjoy reading the newsletters, and feel so much better knowing now that I never need to feel so alone and isolated with it again.

I cope with my stammer a bit better now by telling myself to relax and take my time, and that I don't need to rush to say my words too quickly. I know my stammer will always remain with me, but things have felt a bit better lately than before. I am looking forward to seeing The King's Speech soon.

Supportive colleagues 

Christine's story

I'm Christine and I'm in my fifties. I have stammered since the age of 2. My stammer has always fluctuated depending on the situation I'm in and my mood, but for much of my life it has been severe. I've had a lot of speech therapy, starting as a child (which seemed not to help at all) and then finding the City Lit. These courses have always helped a lot, when I did them, but I have in the past not had the self discipline to carry on practising.

However being the stubborn character I am, I have always talked even with a severe stammer. I think I can do this for two reasons. I was a very much loved child, so even though for many years I had a lack of confidence, I had an inner core of security. My family loved me even if other people were not so nice. Secondly I did some personal development courses in the 1990's which built my confidence and didn't let me use my stammer as an excuse not to do things.

I also feel very strongly that stammering is one of the few conditions where a pressure is put on the person to become more fluent and that somehow you have failed if you stammer severely.

I worked in a public library service for many years. At first I was a library assistant, but in later years colleagues were very kind and encouraged me to apply for promotion. At one point I managed a team of staff, with all that that entailed, including chairing meetings and serving on a library enquiry desk. My stammer at this point was still severe at times particularly on the phone, but I coped and I think my colleagues respected me for all the effort I put in, even though I'm sure I was hard work to listen to sometimes.

In 2009 I took early retirement due to a restructuring and since then it has been a major challenge to keep my fluency at a reasonable level. I'm spending much more time at home on my own and talking much, much less. So when I do talk I'm sometimes as severe as I ever have been. But I'm working on it. I also feel very strongly that stammering is one of the few conditions where a pressure is put on the person to become more fluent and that somehow you have failed if you stammer severely. I stammer and I refuse to feel that I "should" do something about my speech. In many situations I'm OK as I am. I am working on my speech but that is my choice.

Tell us about your experiences of living with a severe stammer. See our Share Your Story page to find out how.

This article was first published in the Spring 2011 edition of our old magazine Speaking Out. (Image posed by a model, courtesy of Mammuth from Getty images)