Teachers - what is stammering?

Some information about stammering and how it is often hidden by the pupil at school
Stammering is universal. It is found in all parts of the world, across all cultures, religions and socio-economic groups. It may be referred to as stammering, stuttering or dysfluency - the terms mean the same. Stammering can take many different forms and each person who has a stammer shows slightly different features.
Stammering has been recorded throughout history. There have been countless theories which try to explain its development and existence. In the past, it has been described variously as an anatomical disorder, a disease, a psychiatric illness, an anomaly of brain functioning and an emotional disturbance! These ancient theories resulted in all manner of attempts to cure stammering- none was successful.

We do know that:

  • It usually start in childhood between 2-5 years of age (often after the child has already started to speak)
  • It may start gradually or quite suddenly
  • While initially it affects boys and girls equally, later on there are about 4 or 5 times as many boys who stammer as girls
  • About 5% of children may go through a phase when they seem to stammer but as it only affects about 1% of adults, many children recover naturally or with some help
  • Parents don't cause stammering
  • Stammering can run in families
  • It is often unpredictable, variable and episodic

Characteristics of stammering

Although the quantity and type of the stammering differs for each individual, the following features are more usual:
  • Repetition of whole words, e.g. “and, and, and, then I left”
  • Repetition of single sounds, e.g. "c-c-come h-h-here"
  • Prolonging of sounds, e.g. "sssssssometimes I go out"
  • Blocking of sounds, where the mouth is in position but no sound comes out
  • Facial tension - in the muscles around the eyes, nose, lips or neck
  • Extra body movements may occur as the child attempts to 'push' the word out, e.g. stamping the feet, shifting body position or tapping with the fingers
  • The breathing pattern 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 interrupted and this may cause distress to the speaker and the listener
Sometimes the child adopts strategies to try to minimise or hide the stammer, 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 stammer in this manner that they may appear fluent, or just become very quiet.
For information about why people stammer please click here
Last updated19 Jun 2019
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