3 ways you can support someone who stammers

The 22nd October is Stammering Awareness Day and it’s time to talk about people that find it tricky to, do just that - talk. As a stammerer myself I thought I was probably the perfect person to chat about this on the UNiDAYS platform because I know what it’s like first hand! Hopefully this will give a little insight into something isn’t as common knowledge as it should be.

So, what actually is a stammer?

Firstly, Americans are more likely to call it stuttering and we use the term stammering, but they’re the same. It’s when, whilst speaking, sounds or syllables are repeated or words are elongated or simply, the words just don’t come out at all. The latter is my type of stammer. I get a total block on words and sometimes I can say the first letter of a word and then it’ll just stop.

All stammers are different. Some people have more physical tendencies than others from a bit of a twitch up to quite violent head ticks. Some people can be more fluent when they’re comfortable, like myself, and then can find it more difficult to speak in tricky situations. For some people, it’s the same level of severity all the time.

How many people stammer?

It affects around 1 in 100 adults, about 700,000 people in the UK. Men are around four more times more likely to stammer than women. You can have a stammer from being a child, like myself, or you can develop it later on in life.

Celebs that have stammers are people like actress Emily Blunt, politician Ed Balls, chart-topping superstar Ed Sheeran, and possibly one of the most famous stammerers, singer, Gareth Gates. Apparently even Marilyn Monroe had a stutter. Plus, you would have all probably seen Educating Yorkshire and the fantastic Musharaf that conquered his stammer during the series with the help of his awesome teacher.

What can we do?

If you come across someone with a stammer, you meet someone new who has one or you already have a friend or family member that stammers then these tips could help you support them if you hadn’t realised that perhaps, you could.

1. Understanding that people don't stammer because they're nervous or that they can’t get out of the habit

I’ve had a lot of people react to my admissions that I stammer at school or in the workplace with “Oh, I get that too sometimes!”, when they think it just means that I would say “umm” or “ahh” quite a lot. This isn’t the case, stammering is a neurological condition, technically a disability and sometimes cannot be changed or improved at all. In a lot of cases, it can be improved to the level that it is hardly noticeable, but for a lot of people it can be really difficult to deal with.

2. Keep your cool

Don’t panic yourself if someone you’re speaking to is having difficulty. Keep natural eye contact and make sure that your body language doesn’t look awkward. They’re already hating every second that they’re stammering so don’t make it worse, even if you don’t mean to.

3. Listen and don’t interrupt

Listen to what they are saying, they know exactly what they want to say, it just takes a little time. Unless you know them very well and you know they’d appreciate the help - don’t try to finish sentences either. Personally, I love a little bit of help from the people that know that it’s OK to help me if I’m struggling to order my coffee or say a particular word in a meeting. If you know someone closely that stammers, have this conversation with them - they will appreciate it.

What if you stammer?

What about if you’re a stammerer yourself and you’re wondering how to deal with it? I’m not a speech therapist or an expert, I’m simply someone who’s had a stammer for as long as I could speak so it’s just what I know has helped me.

1. See a therapist

But, only if you’re ready to accept that you have a problem that you need to work through and are ready to open up to someone about how it makes you feel. I saw a therapist from about 16 and then joined a stammering support group for a few months when I was 18. I continued to see a therapist on and off throughout my early twenties and I can revert back to those sessions sometimes when I’m finding things tough. Thanks to them, I now make phone calls, order my own coffee, ask for help in a shop etc. So many little things that people take for granted that I would never have done without their help.

The British Stammering Association also have some really great resources and advice.

2. Talk about it

Tell people. People wouldn’t ask someone with a sight impairment to read them a chapter of a book if they literally couldn’t see. It sounds dramatic but it’s true. Universities and employers should have suitable help available if you ask about it. Let people know before interviews, presentations, meetings if you haven’t met them before - it can really help your confidence too.

3. Understand there will be idiots

Unfortunately, you might have to develop a bit of a thick skin. A lot of people don’t know what stammering is and have never come across someone with one. I’m pretty sensitive and I’ve heard it all when I’ve stammered in front of people. From people that are still kind and concerned with “I’m sorry are you alright?!” to “Omg, I thought you were going to die - what’s wrong with you?” to someone trying to pick a fight with me because she thought I made a face at her.

It’s other people’s problem how they react to it but sometimes we’ll have to bear the brunt of that. But, this is exactly why I’ve written this article so that hopefully people understand more about it and can react in a more helpful way. Hopefully, if you’ve never met someone with a stammer, already know someone who stammers or are a stammerer yourself - any of the scenarios - this article was helpful. Peace!

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