Stammering Facts

Stammering is different from other early speech and language issues, because it can start at different stages in a child’s life. For some it starts gradually – it comes and goes and seems to be a part of the child’s natural attempts to use more and more words. For others, it can begin quite suddenly, sometimes almost overnight, and sometimes quite severely.

Estimates suggest that 5% of children will stammer at some point, and approximately 1% continue to stammer into adulthood. Stammering is 3 to 4 times more common in boys than in girls, and while stammering is outwardly characterised by repetitions, prolongations and blocking of sounds, these core behaviours can be accompanied by feelings of isolation, frustration and embarrassment.

Stammering crosses all races, cultures, religions and social groupings, conceals intellectual ability, affects educational choices and achievement, resulting in impaired communication skills, and in some cases can become a focus for teasing and bullying. Without appropriate support, in severe cases, it may play a significant part in a young person’s ability to achieve their potential and to make a full contribution to society as an adult. As a Charity we aim to stop this from happening.

Stammering is a highly-complicated problem that has mystified researchers, academics and those who stammer throughout history. However, we believe there is no reason why a young person should be held back by their stammer, and why they should not be able to achieve their dreams. There are a large number of successful people who have stammered throughout history who have achieved incredible things including Winston Churchill, Ed Sheeran, King George VI, Ed Balls and Hollywood actor Emily Blunt. Visit our page for Young People to hear more about well know people who stammer.

Throughout this website we hope to answer all of your questions regarding stammering and how to get help for yourself or your child, with help from our main partner, the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.

Please see our FAQs page for your questions, or our Tips page for help on managing a stammer

If you have a stammer you are avoiding things you wouldn’t avoid if you didn’t have a stammer and you appear to be a different person to who you really are.

It’s quite hard a lot of the time coz you don’t say what you want to say and you have to, like, always keep on changing what you’re about to say to avoid stammering.

I don’t think I’m any different to anyone else, I just go through bad patches and good patches and when I go through the bad patches I’m a bit quiet and when I go through the good patches I’m pretty good, pretty loud.

If I meet new people I try and tell them “Hi, I’ve got a stammer, don’t worry about it, I’m not worried about it so you shouldn’t either.” And then once I’ve got that off my chest, everything’s much easier. For me stammering isn’t that much of a problem.

Did you know?

When does it begin?

Parents often tell us that their child started stammering around the time their language skills were developing.  This is typically between the ages of two and five years, although stammering can start later.

Stammering usually starts in childhood, often between the ages of 2 – 5 years coinciding with the rapid development of new physical and mental skills. In particular, the child is learning many new words, beginning to use longer sentences, expressing new ideas and asking lots of questions.

Stammering is different from other early speech and language problems because it can start at different stages in a child’s life.

For some it starts gradually – it comes and goes and seems to be a part of a child’s natural attempts to use more and more words. While for other children it can begin quite suddenly, sometimes almost overnight, and sometimes quite severely.

This can be very worrying indeed, for both the child and for their family. And, in some cases, it can disappear just as quickly, within days or months.

If you are concerned, it is best to seek advice early. Don’t be put off by the “don’t worry” school of thought. We all know that telling ourselves not to worry is usually unhelpful. Practical help is what is needed, which is what we are trying to offer here.

What causes it?

We don’t really know yet. Scientists have been working for years to try and find out whether there is a cause and whether there is a cure. So far, all that has been agreed is that the problem is highly complicated, although developing research believes it is related to reduced blood flow to a certain area of the brain.

Please head over to our research area to find out more.

The “ingredients” of stammering are probably different for every person who has a stammer and the things that help stammering may be slightly different for everyone too.

For example, different factors that impact stammering could be physical/biological factors, such as having a family history of stammering in blood relatives or the co-ordination of the speech mechanism. There may be a link between the way in which a child develops speech and language which is important. This may either be that a child is quicker or slower than his age group, or that there were some earlier, sometimes quite subtle, difficulties. A child’s environment, such as their family life or rapid pace of life can impact a stammer, as well as personality traits.

However, it’s important to remember that every child is unique. We use this diagram below to help understand the factors that might explain why a child starts to stammer, how the stammer changes over time, why children stammer more or less in particular circumstances and the impact that it has on the child and family. Everyone is born with their own physical ‘make-up’ and as we grow and develop, everyday experiences shape our personal characteristics, our strengths and our vulnerabilities. Each individual who stammers will probably have a different combination or ‘loading’ of these factors and these can change over time. The diagram below shows some examples of the factors that might be important for a child.

Have more questions? Head over to our FAQ page for all the answers to your questions.

Who is affected?

About 5% of young children experience some difficulty with their fluency at some point. Most will achieve normal fluency with or without help, but about 1% continue to stammer into adulthood.

Some experts would say that it is impossible to predict exactly which children will grow out of it, but current research is beginning to suggest a number of factors which can help us identify those children who are more vulnerable to stammering. We will discuss these in a later section on what causes stammering.

In early childhood, there are nearly as many girls who stammer as boys, but this picture changes over time. It seems that girls also begin to stammer a bit earlier and are more likely to overcome the problem than boys. By the age of ten, the ratio of boys to girls who stammer may as high as 4 or 5:1. This is why we will often refer to the child who stammers as “he” on this website.

What are the common characteristics of stammering?

Although the quantity and type of the stammering differs for each individual, the following features are more common. Remember that even if your child is showing a few of these characteristics in their speech, this does not necessarily mean that your child has developed a full stammer. Typically, many young children repeat words and syllables:

  • Repetition of whole words, e.g. “and, and, and, then I left”
  • Repetition of single sounds or syllables, e.g. “c-c-come h-h-here mu-mu-mummy”
  • Prolonging of sounds, e.g. “sssssssometimes I go out”
  • Blocking of sounds, where the mouth is in position, but no sound comes out
  • Muscle tension – around the eyes, nose, lips, neck, or in arms, legs, chest etc. Extra body movements may occur as the child attempts to ‘push’ the word out: stamping a foot, shifting body position or finger tapping.
  • Avoiding eye contact during a moment of stammering
  • Breathing may be disrupted, for example, the child may hold his breath while speaking or take an exaggerated breath before speaking. Generally the flow of speech is unevenly disrupted and this may cause distress to the speaker and the listener

Sometimes the child adopts strategies to try and minimise or hide the problem, for example:

  • Avoiding or changing words – the child may say “I’ve forgotten what I was going to say”, or may switch to another word when he begins to stammer, e.g. “I played with my br- br- br… my sister on Saturday”
  • Avoiding certain situations – for instance, speaking in assembly or asking questions in class
  • Some children become so adept at hiding their problem in this manner that they may appear fluent, or just become very quiet.
Is it brought on by emotional/psychological factors?

It is often assumed that children who stammer are shy or nervous. We know this is not true. Children who stammer have a range of different personality types just like everyone else.

We are often asked whether a child’s stammer could have been caused by a crisis or an upset in the family. Even though there is no research evidence that events in a family cause stammering, parents often worry that one experience may have triggered the problem. For example, parents may worry that it was the arrival of a new baby, starting a new school or nursery, an illness or an accident etc. While these incidents are obviously important, they are also events that occur in the lives of many families, with no consequences for a child’s fluency. However, they could be a source of additional stress for a child.

Stammering Facts

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