What is a stutter?
A stutter, which can also be more formally known as a stammer is a type of speech impediment that occurs when:
- you repeat sounds or syllables (E.g. "m-m-m-monkey")
- sounds are extended (E.g. "mmmmmmonkey")
- words or sounds get stuck or don't come out
- a stutter can often cause a stutterer to make weird facial expressions while they are stuttering
The severity of a stutter can vary based on:
- The person
- The specific situation
Anyone can stutter, some people are diagnosed with it. Why?
Not everyone is perfect, some people who are not diagnosed can still have an occasional stutter - a really common example is when they're scared (E.g. "G-g-ghost!"). But some people are diagnosed with it by a professional speech therapist, like myself. There are two types of stutterers:
- developmental stammering: the most common that happens in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing quickly
- acquired or late-onset stammering: is relatively rare and happens in older children and adults as a result of a head injury, stroke or progressive neurological condition. It can also be caused by certain drugs, medicines, or psychological or emotional trauma
I've had developmental stammering since I could talk and it's never gone away... But, it has gotten a lot easier.
Childhood (Ages 3 - 15)
Childhood is where the majority of stammers occur. But most of them will fade away over time, some will not.
My childhood was difficult because no-one really knew what a stutter was and let's face the facts, kids are mean. It's true. If you are different, you get picked on.
My stutter was the worst in my younger years - I was stuttering on literally every syllable (E.g. "Hhhhi, mmmy n-n-n-n-name i-is J-j-j-jack."). Very few people could understand what I was saying, because by the time I'd finished the sentence, they'd already forgotten what I said at the start.
I attended speech therapy for 10 years, between the ages of 5 and 15, where I learned various speech techniques. We called my stutter, "bumpy talk" 😅. You wouldn't notice a stutterer using these techniques unless you were told about it. Some techniques were:
- Slowing down
- Facing the fear head-on
- Ease into a word
- Think about what you want to say before you say it
- Breaking up sentences into manageable chunks
- And more
These are really useful to help overcome stuttering but almost always we have to decide the best technique for a situation almost instantly - we don't have time to plan our conversations.
I let my fear hold me back from nearly everything - speaking in school assemblies, school plays, to friends and family, on the phone, on Xbox Live etc.
Teenager and adulthood (Ages 15+)
By 15, I was nearing the end of my monthly speech therapy and was a lot more comfortable with speaking:
- I stutter once or twice a sentence (dependent on the words used and length of the sentence)
- My friends were getting older and they understood more about my stutter
- I was using the techniques I learned nearly all the time
- I faced my fear head-on - I offered to speak in front of people
I used to get offended when someone made a little joke and genuinely was curious about my stutter - I instantly thought they were making fun of me. I learned to become immune to being offended because in fact, they were not trying to offend me. Some people are really interested in my stutter and I am always happy to answer any curiosity they may have. But, I've learned to joke with people and make jokes about stuttering too. For example, I joked that I would be a perfect voice actor to sing the theme tune for Dora the Explorer ("D-D-D-D-D-Dora...") - A children's TV show that encourages adventure and learning Spanish.
I used to tell people I stuttered before engaging in a conversation - I no longer do this. I will engage in any conversation, and if I'm asked if I stutter, I don't get offended, I don't get upset or embarrassed, I straight up say, "Yes, thank you for noticing" 🙂.
I hardly stutter any more but I have periods where I do. If my stress levels are high, I'm more likely to stutter. If my stress levels are low, then I'm calm, and I probably won't stutter and will feel much better about myself. But when I do stutter, I really don't care because I'm allowed to.
Getting older, my stutter, my attitude towards my stutter and other people's responses to my stutter have greatly improved and I am eternally grateful for that! 🙏 As a child, other children would laugh at my stutter, but it's obvious as an adult that's no longer the case. Don't get me wrong though, I do encounter the odd person who decides to shame me for my stutter but I learned to ignore the hate a long time ago.
I don't let my stutter hold me back from anything anymore - and I mean nothing! I will happily make a phone call, talk up in meetings, do public speaking if I had the opportunity, and many more speaking activities because I'm not embarrassed of my stutter and I won't let it prevent me from being where I want to be.
Working with someone who stutters
I turned to my colleagues prior to writing this article because I wanted their opinions on what it's like to work with me (someone who stutters). Some of my colleagues have asked to remain anonymous but were happy for me to use their response and I have respected their decision.
Some interesting and honest responses here. Some I predicted, some I did not. I understand a stutter can put fellow colleagues (or anyone for that matter) in an awkward position because they don't really know how to approach it. I want to say thank you to my current colleagues for their responses above and that you've done nothing in the wrong at all, you all approached it in your own way. 💪
How can I help someone with a stutter?
This is the single most asked question I get about my stutter 😅. So, here are some common things we stutterers appreciate:
- Don't finish our sentences.
- There is nothing more annoying than me struggling on a word and the other person sitting words trying to guess what I'm going to say 😅.
- Don't use our stutter as your chance to interrupt.
- Just because I'm stuttering and it appears the conversation has come to a pause, this is not your cue to speak. This is different when on a voice call because it's not always obvious if we're stuttering or if we're genuinely done talking.
- If you notice we stutter, don't be afraid to ask.
- Don't assume we will let our stutter hold us back.
- Be patient, we will eventually say what we need to say.
- You can make jokes but don't shame us.
Keeping these key points in mind can ensure a healthy conversation 😊.
What is it like?
I take my stutter with me everywhere I go. It's been by my side through school, extra-curricular activities and work. I've demonstrated it to my friends, family, colleagues and strangers I happen to be in conversation with. For most stutterers, school is the hardest part because you're prone to being made fun of - I was often greeted with "Hey J-J-J-Jack, HAHA". Working in retail and an office environment, I can honestly say I've had no issues at all, except maybe a few incidents in retail. I'd expect no issues from an office because it's more of a formal environment, however I was expecting some negativity working in retail. The only issues I encountered in retail are when I encountered a customer who was initially not particularly happy when they entered the shop. They'd approach me demanding, "Show me where these are [them showing me an item of clothing they've previously purchased]! I want an exchange." This instantly shocked me and raised my stress levels, I would often stutter in these situations, with one man storming off saying, "For God sake, I haven't got time for this." But for the most part, I never encounter any issues with anyone. 🙂
Stutterers in the wild
Below are some resources about stuttering that I really like.
King George VI of England and The King's Speech
His majesty, King George VI, reigned during World War 2. He became king when his older brother, King Edward VIII resigned in . King George had a stutter which made him afraid of becoming King. A movie was released in called The King's Speech, which is one of the most inspiring stutter stories, in my opinion.
Porky Pig from Looney Tunes
Porky Pig stutters because his voice actor stutters, Joe Dougherty. I could relate to Porky Pig as a child because of my love for Looney Tunes and because I also spoke very fast and didn't think about what I wanted to say. Watch Porky Pig's debut here.
Fermat Hackenbacker from Thunderbirds
Samuel L. Jackson
This icon needs no introduction, but, did you know he used to stutter? You can watch an interview here. They say some stutters have a trigger, a word or phrase they say when they get annoyed at stuttering. Mine used to be "sugar!" Samuel L. Jackson's trigger is a little more... explicit. "M*th*rf*ck*r" is his trigger word, which is part of the reason you hear him saying it a lot in movies; it's like his catchphrase.
Drew Lynch is a late stutterer due to a softball injury, but he turned his stutter into a positive. He entered America's Got Talent and did extremely well!
Woman in the audience on Steve Harvey show
A brave young woman receives advice for past stutterer Steve Harvey and is truly great! - Watch here.
This article was written because I've had a few people message me who also have stutters and I wanted to help them realise it's OK to stutter. So many people get really far in life with a stutter because they don't let it hold them back. 💪