What is a stammer?

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It is important that all those involved in a child's life understand what stammering is and the impact it can have on a child as they grow up. Parents often seek information and support from education and health professionals, and being able to identify a stammer will speed up referral to specialist services. We hope the definition here is helpful but please take a look at the other FAQs on our website, and get in touch if you would like to know more.

 

Stammering, also known as stuttering, is a neuro-developmental condition where someone repeats, stretches and/or gets stuck when they are speaking. It is different from typical hesitations and rewordings.

It is estimated that 8% or 1 in 12 children stammer at some point. Many of these children will resolve their stammer naturally within a few months. Stammering is more common in boys than girls.

There are both ‘overt’ characteristics that can be seen and heard, and ‘covert’ characteristics that are emotional, psychological and behavioural. 

Overt characteristics are those that can be heard and seen when the person is speaking and can include: 

  • repeating sounds, syllables, or words (e.g. "k-k-king")
  • lengthening sounds (e.g. "lllllake")
  • stopping or ‘blocking’ speech sounds, where the person is unable to produce sounds easily
  • visible tension in the face, breathing and body

Covert characteristics, on the other hand, refer to the internal experiences associated with stammering, which can go unnoticed by family, friends and colleagues

  • feelings of anxiety, frustration and embarrassment relating to speaking
  • avoidance of words and speech sounds that are difficult for the person to say, such as the person’s own name or certain sounds in words 
  • avoidance of speaking situations where the stammer increases, such as speaking on the phone or giving presentations

The frequency of stammering moments and how much the stammer affects a person varies greatly. It is vital to get a full picture of these overt and covert symptoms to provide the best support to children and young people who stammer.

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