Stuttering (also referred to as stammering) is a common speech problem experienced by children, which can continue into adulthood. Studies suggest one in 12 children experience a phase of stammering, while one in 100 adults will continue to stutter.
What is a stutter/stammer?
When you have a stutter, it means you have difficulty with some elements of your speech. It may be that you repeat sounds or syllables (for example, “b-b-b-book”), that you make certain sounds for longer (“boooooooook”) or you may feel like the word is stuck and you can’t get it out at all.
Stuttering affects everyone differently and will vary from person to person. Some people may experience periods of stuttering followed by periods of speaking fluidly. Many find that stress makes their stuttering worse.
The two main types of stuttering are:
- Developmental stammering. This is the most common type. It usually happens during early childhood while your language skills are still developing.
- Acquired/late-onset stammering. This type of stammering is rarer, typically occurring in older children and adults as a result of stroke, a head injury, or a progressive neurological condition. It can also happen as a result of certain drugs, medication or trauma.
What is a stammer?
Stuttering and stammering and the same thing. Typically, the term stammering is used more in the UK, while stuttering is used more in the US, though both can be used interchangeably.
How can stammering affect you?
Developmental stammering is usually noticed when you begin learning to speak, between ages two to five. As children become more aware of their stuttering, they may change their behaviour to try and hide their difficulties with speech.
Having a stutter can negatively impact your overall levels of confidence and self-esteem, and over time, can lead to higher levels of anxiety.
Children in particular who develop a stutter may exhibit other involuntary movements, such as quivering lips, eye blinking, gramacing, tapping their fingers or stamping feet. They may also:
- Try to avoid words or sounds that they have difficulty with or typically stammer on.
- Change how they speak, for example trying to talk softly, slowly, or with an accent.
- Attempt to hide their stuttering through other strategies, such as saying they have forgotten what they planned to say if they have trouble with the words.
- Avoid social situations or changing behaviours, for example turning down invitations to friends' houses, birthday parties, or not asking for something they want when in a shop.
- Show signs of fear, shame, embarrassment, or frustration.
What causes stammering in children and adults?
The exact cause of stammering isn’t always clear. It’s important to remember that for children, developing a stammer isn’t the result of something their parents have done. Problems with speech can happen when some parts of the developing system aren’t coordinating. This may then lead to repetition or stopping - something that can happen more when under pressure or over-excited.
Boys and men are four times more likely to experience stuttering than girls and women are. Those with a family history are also more likely to experience stammering, as around two in every three people who stammer will have a family member who has stuttered.
As most children grow up, their speech and language system catches up and they ‘grow out’ of their stutter. For some, however, this doesn’t happen and they continue to struggle with their speech.
In other cases, stuttering starts after the developmental stage. This can happen after a head injury, a stroke or due to a neurological condition. It’s also believed that trauma and times of intense stress can lead to the development of a stutter.
Whatever the cause, for some, it can be overt and obvious, while for others it is more covert. Other people may not know you have a stutter, but your fear of stuttering can affect you in a big way. This can lead to something called interiorised stammering.
Interiorised stammering can happen when you have strong negative feelings about your stammer. You may have high levels of fluency when you talk, but also avoid situations that could trigger your stammer or make it worse.
For example, you might try and hide the fact that you have a stammer and have strong feelings of shame surrounding it. Because of this, you might develop certain behaviours like internally rehearsing what you will say, over and over again.
Creating strategies and avoidance techniques to hide your stammer may be part of your daily life. Interiorised stammering is often likened to an iceberg, what you see on the surface is only a very small part of the story. The fear, guilt and shame are beneath the surface.
The main issue is more the stress of thinking I might stammer. It can stop you from being social in general, particularly meeting new people where I’m more likely to get questions that I might struggle with. For me as it’s so mild and people don’t usually notice, it adds more stress. It makes it more stressful than if the stammer was obvious I would imagine.
- Read James’ story.
How stuttering can affect you
Whether your stutter is severe or mild, overt or covert, it can have a huge effect on your life. It can knock your confidence, making you nervous to talk to others. This can lead to low self-esteem.
Being worried about whether or not you’re going to be able to get your words out can be very stressful. Prolonged stress can develop into anxiety. Your behaviour may change because of this and you could even develop low mood and depression.
The important thing to remember is that there is still support available and you can learn to cope with these effects and improve your stutter.
Getting help for stuttering
How can I stop stuttering permanently?
If your stutter is impacting your daily life, visit your GP. They will be able to investigate further and may refer you to a speech and language therapist. They can then work with you to help improve your fluency and reduce the impact stuttering has on your life. Children who stammer may be referred to a speech and language therapist (SLT) for a full assessment.
You may also be recommended to try psychological therapies to help you deal with the negative feelings you have around stuttering and to improve confidence.
Speaking to others who struggle with their speech can also help. You may find it helpful to join online support forums where you can share experiences and offer tips. Another option to help with the impact of stuttering is hypnotherapy.
What is the most effective treatment for stuttering?
There are a number of different approaches recommended that can help you to speak more easily. These often include working with a therapist in a relaxed environment, where you are introduced to new strategies to help develop communications skills, increase fluency, and work through your feelings that have become associated with stammering (eg. anxiety around talking or fear or stammering).
Hypnotherapy for stuttering
In some cases, stutters are caused by physical or emotional trauma, or times of extreme stress (for example being bullied). In these instances, and if stuttering causes you stress and anxiety, hypnotherapy can be a helpful tool.
Analytical hypnotherapy can be used to explore when your stutter first started and analyse what happened and why it may have triggered your stutter. Your hypnotherapist can use techniques to help change your beliefs about the situation and desensitise your reactions to the memory.
Hypnotherapy can also help you develop strategies to cope better with your day-to-day triggers too (for example in social situations or public speaking). If you are struggling with stress, anxiety and/or low self-esteem as a result of your stuttering, seeing a hypnotherapist can be helpful.
Your hypnotherapist will help you into a deeply relaxed state where your unconscious is more open to suggestion. Here, the therapist can offer ‘suggestions’ to ease stress, reduce anxiety and build confidence. Often, stress and anxiety can make stutters worse, so relieving these with hypnotherapy can, in turn, improve the fluency of speech.
Does hypnotherapy work for stuttering?
Hypnotherapy can be a helpful, complimentary therapy to reduce or overcome stuttering. Hypnotherapist Biodun explains more.
Hypnosis has been proven to be useful in eliminating stammers and speech impediments. Hypnosis seeks to find the event or stress that causes the verbal response. Once the stressing incident or idea is named and accepted, the hypnotherapist leads them back to a time in their life when they did not stammer.
- Biodun Ogunyemi, Certified Master Hypnotherapist ANLP, BNLP, SNLP, C.H,Dip.Hyp, explains more in Hypnosis to help with a stammer or speech impediment