International Stammering Awareness Day 2021: Speaking about stammering

For this week’s blog, we hear from Matt from our marketing team for International Stammering Awareness Day!

Friday 22nd October is International Stammering Awareness Day. Stammering (AKA stuttering) is relatively widely recognised, represented in popular culture by the film The King’s Speech, Gareth Gates’ run on Pop Idol back in 2001 and Musharaf Asgar’s speech to a packed assembly hall at his Yorkshire school. 

You may have seen some of these examples, but it might surprise you to learn that stammering is more common than you think. Globally, 1 in 100 (70 million) people have a stammer and about 5% of children aged 2 to 5 (1 in 20)  will develop a stammer during their childhood. 

A stammer can be caused by a number of things including genetics (passed down through generations), mental trauma or a brain injury. Stammering can include repetition of sounds or words, stretching sounds, ‘blocking’ or a lack of airflow that prevents a sound from forming, face and body tension or even body movements. Alongside these physical signs, people who stammer can also experience anxiety, frustration, guilt, depression and other psychological symptoms. 

You could mistake the description of stammering above as a list of difficult things that make it hard for people who stammer to find success and live normal, comfortable lives, but you’d be wrong. Some of the world’s most well-known people are people who stammer. This list includes Samuel L Jackson, Emily Blunt, current US president Joe Biden, Noel Gallagher and even our very own patron and ACC alumni Ed Sheeran! 

Ultimately, this highlights that even if communication takes a little more time and work for stammerers, that like non-stammerers, they can still do amazing things with their lives. 

I’ve had a stammer for as long as I could talk. I’ve worked hard to be open about it with everyone I meet, welcome questions and to help people around me understand my experiences and my needs. It’s made me more determined and driven, and it taught me the importance of equality. 

Some days are easier than others, and when especially tired or stressed, my stammer is more prominent. But the key for me is to have a support network around me at work or college, at home and within my wider friends and family who understand what I’ve experienced and what I need. I never wanted to be defined by my stammer. Just like everybody else in the world, I want to be happy, successful and comfortable in the world and my speech is something I view as a quirk and that I deal with as and when I need to.

But not every stammerer feels the same as me. So if you meet a person who stammers, what can you do to help? 

The first big way to help is to be patient. It may be tempting to finish the person’s sentence, especially when you know what they want to say, but doing so can make it harder for that person to feel confident when speaking. Making eye contact with the person can also be helpful to give them a focal point to be able to concentrate and feel heard, especially in busy and loud environments. Lastly, what can make a massive difference is to ask them what they need; every person is different and they might have various things that help them. 

If you are a person who stammers, my advice is to bring people into your experiences, set yourself goals, be proud of your achievements and ask for help when and if you need it. It’s not always easy, but it doesn’t define who you are. You have a voice and it’s as valuable to the world as anyone else’s, even if you do sometimes need a little longer! 

Support and more information on stammering is available from The British Stammering Association