By Steven Halliday


Stammering. There’s so much people get wrong about it. It’s not about nerves and it’s not a sign that someone’s less intelligent, incompetent or a bit odd.

Firstly, what do we mean by stammering?

When you think about someone who stammers, you might be picturing Gareth Gates or Porky Pig, repeating sounds over and over. But it also includes other types of speech dysfluency such as silent blocks (where sounds get stuck) or prolongations (stretching out sounds in words).

For most people, stammering starts in childhood. Around 8% of children will stammer, most commonly between the ages of two and five. For most, it will disappear naturally over time. If it continues for more than a few years, it’s likely always to be part of the way someone speaks.

In a YouGov poll we conducted here at STAMMA in 2021, 2% of adults in the UK said that they stammer. That’s over 1.3 million people.

Stammering can occasionally start in adulthood when it can be associated with a head injury, a stroke, a condition such as Parkinson’s, or as a side effect of certain medications or

What causes it?

There’s no simple answer to that question. We know lots about what doesn’t cause stammering but we’re still learning about what does. We know, for instance, that it’s not caused by anxiety or stress. But people may stammer more when stressed or anxious. We know that stammering isn’t caused by particular personality types, but some people might find stammering more emotionally challenging than others.

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We know that it’s not down to intelligence. Some of the greatest thinkers, artists, performers and leaders stammered or do stammer. In the UK, famous historical figures who stammered include Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, Alan Turing and Winston Churchill. Other people who have had or have a stammer include Ed Sheeran, Kendrik Lamar, Emily Blunt, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, even the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.

We get lots of helpline calls and webchats from parents worried that they’ve caused their child to start stammering for various reasons. We know that it isn’t a result of certain parenting styles or stress in childhood (such as moving house or hearing parents argue). But parents’ behaviour can significantly affect how well their child copes with stammering.

Research suggests that stammering is neurological, meaning there are subtle differences in the way the brains of people who stammer are wired or how they work. Exactly what these differences seem to vary from person to person. We know it’s often hereditary, with about 60% of people who stammer having another family member who stammers. More men stammer than women and it can affect people of all ethnicities.

Is there a cure?

We often get asked about cures for stammering. Is there one treatment that can miraculously make all people stop stammering? It isn’t that simple, contrary to what TV shows and films would have you believe. There is no cure for stammering. There are lots of different techniques and approaches that can increase people’s fluency in certain situations, but they may not work for everyone or in all situations. Everyone’s stammer is unique, as is the way that they want to deal with it.

How can stammering affect someone?

The physical act of stammering can be exhausting. There’s the constant battle with tension which forms and mounts in your mouth, neck or body as you try to get the words out. But that can be just a tiny part of the experience.

There is a lot of stigma surrounding stammering, including a lack of acceptance and understanding. People experience negative responses from a young and impressionable age, such as name-calling, sniggering and sometimes bullying, even as adults. This stigma can mean a person who stammers may feel shame, embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, anger and fear about how they speak. They may fear others showing impatience, laughing at them, or mocking them.

There’s the frustration of not being able to say what you want, when you want; of not being taken seriously; and of bartenders refusing to serve you, wrongly assuming you’ve had a few too many to drink. Or automated telephone systems that cut you off before you’ve had the chance to finish what you want to say.

Everyday speaking situations like ordering a coffee, answering the phone, speaking to a colleague or giving your name to a delivery person can feel like monumental hurdles when you stammer. So you can imagine how difficult situations that everyone fears (such as giving presentations, first dates or job interviews) can be if you stammer.

It can be variable too, with people stammering less on some days but more on others, seemingly for no reason. Someone sharing their story with us recently explained that having a stammer can feel like their identity is constantly shifting. This uncertainty about when and how much they might stammer, as well as the possibility that others might react negatively, can understandably make someone who stammers appear nervous. Here’s where the misconception comes in: a lot of people think people stammer because they’re nervous. But it’s the opposite. They’re nervous because they might stammer.

For many people who stammer, this aspect forms the greater part of the experience. Because of the stigma, someone who stammers might attempt to hide it and try to pass as fluent so that no one finds out. Many achieve this and you won’t even know they stammer.

It’s likely you know someone who stammers but you don’t realise it. They might appear fluent, but under the surface they’re constantly thinking about their speech – anticipating speaking situations, thinking about what they’re going to say, scanning ahead and switching words for ones they find easier to say and building up a huge vocabulary of synonyms to use when they think they’re going to struggle with a certain word. They might speak less, avoid saying what they want, or even avoid certain situations or social events altogether. It’s constantly there, a source of stress.

All of this can have a significant impact on someone’s mental health, even from childhood.

The fear of being ridiculed, of not being able to find a job or forge lasting relationships; the social anxiety and the feeling of exclusion and isolation can be devastating.

How you can help

StammerThere are things you can do to help someone who stammers feel more comfortable.

Be patient and let someone finish speaking. Don’t jump in and finish their sentences by trying to predict what they’re going to say. It can be tempting, especially if you can see someone struggling and want to help. But it can be disempowering and embarrassing if you speak over them. Not to mention frustrating if your prediction is wrong and they have to start all over again.

It can be uncomfortable listening to someone who stammers. We get it. But think how they might feel. Try and maintain eye contact even if you feel awkward. Looking away can make the person feel awkward too or think that you’ve lost interest in what they’re saying. Keep looking at them and give the occasional encouraging head nod to show you’re interested.

Don’t try and give advice like ‘slow down’, ‘just relax’, or ‘breathe’. However helpful it might seem, it just draws attention to their speech and makes them feel like they’re doing something wrong.

Definitely don’t try and lighten the mood by making the joke ‘Have you forgotten your name?’. If you want to say something, be reassuring and say, “Take your time”. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything you can do to support them.

The person might speak quickly to try and get out what they want to say without stammering. If you find what they’re saying hard to follow, ask politely if they can repeat it. Just knowing that you’re listening to what they’re saying and being supportive can take a lot of pressure off someone and put them at ease.

What’s next for people who stammer?

There is a growing feeling of ‘stammering pride’, with many people starting to push back against society’s demand for fluency; and starting to celebrate the rich diversity in speech rather than be ashamed of it and see it as a defect that has to be ‘fixed’. Many people who stammer champion the positives their dysfluency has given them, such as increased empathy and being a better listener.

At STAMMA we know that stammering doesn’t have to be a negative. Lots of people who stammer are confident, self-assured and flourishing in their careers, with people like Joe Biden proving that you can stammer and still achieve great things.

That said, sadly it’s still the case that stammering is the one condition people think it’s okay to laugh at. ‘Did I stutter?’ and ‘Come on, spit it out’ are phrases still all too common in society. You wouldn’t say to someone in a wheelchair ‘Come on, get up and walk’.

Stammering is still used in the media as a device to make people laugh or to indicate dishonesty or incompetence.

But it’s none of those things. It’s just how some people speak.

For more information, and to find out how you can get support for stammering for either yourself, a child, a family member or a friend, visit Or call our helpline free on 0808 802 0002 or start a webchat at Become a member at and help us to create a world that makes space for stammering.

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