What is stammering?
Stammering – or as they tend to say in the US, stuttering – is characterised by a disrupted stop-start speech flow. Sometimes people repeat words, extend them or omit them completely.
Most people who stammer have what is called developmental stammering which begins in childhood around three to four. Sometimes stammering is acquired later as result of a head injury, stroke or neurological disease.
Who is affected?
According to the NHS, 5-8% of pre-school children will experience a phase of non-fluent speech.
The British Stammering Association (BSA) reckon that 1% of the adult population stammers - over 450,000 adults in Britain.
It’s mainly men. About 3.5 to 4 men stammer for every woman who stammers, say the BSA.
What causes it?
There’s no one thing although it can run in families. Apparently, brain images show significant differences between the brain activity of people who stammer compared to fluent speakers.
Certain words, especially ones with many syllables, and certain situations can make stammering more pronounced. Yet people who stammer tend to be fluent when speaking in a group, singing or whispering.
BSA chief exec Norbert Lieckfeldt says: 'to the best of my knowledge there is no cultural element to stammering, and very little difference between nations, ethnic groups and cultures.'
What’s the treatment?
The BSA’s Norbert Lieckfeldt says: ‘In pre-school children, the two most common approaches are Family Interaction Therapy pioneered by the Michael Palin Centre in London where the therapist with the parent aims to change the communication environment of the child to allow the child to catch up physically with the demands on their speech (often self-imposed).
'The other is a behavioural approach, called the Lidcombe method. This was developed in Australia. In this approach the parents are taught a very structured method of correcting their child's speech, highlighting "bumpy" words and praising "smooth talking".
What about treatment for adults?
In older children and adults, it tends to be a mixture of behavioural approaches (such learning a fluency technique) combined with therapies designed to minimise or reduce the negative emotional and psychological impact stammering can have. The BSA website outlines to options.
Lionel Logue, the speech therapist visited by King George VI in the film, The King's Speech is pictured right.
How accurate is the film The King’s Speech?
It’s pretty good. The BSA welcomed the film for its ‘realistic depiction of the frustration and the fear of speaking faced by people who stammer on a daily basis.’ They said that Colin Firth's portrayal of the King's stammer ‘in particular strikes us as very authentic and accurate.’ There’s an excellent interview with Colin Firth on the BSA website.
The King's Speech has gone on to win four Oscars including best film, Colin Firth for lead actor, Tom Hooper for director and David Seidler, at the age of 73, for original screenplay.
As a child with a stammer, Seidler was inspired by George V’s ability to overcome his own speech problems to make his wartime broadcasts. He told Naomi Pfefferman in a fascinating interview for the Jewish Journal: ‘Like many upper-middle-class children in Britain of my generation, I was raised by nannies.’ One of these disappeared on the eve of the Blitz. ‘But nobody in my family explained these things to children; no one prepared me for the loss.’ He thinks he left the UK speaking normally and arrived in the USA a stutterer.
The technique used in the film of avoiding stammering by swearing profusely is based on Seidler’s own experience: ‘I learned some expletives, and I’d just leap around my bedroom like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, shouting the f-word. And when I did, I didn’t stutter — it was a huge relief.’
Seidler became a writer because he found it easier to express himself in through the written word than the spoken one – a feeling a lot of writers will be able to relate to, stammerers or not.
How can I help people who stammer?
Don’t worry about it. The BSA's advice is that ‘nervousness is a result of embarrassment about stammering rather than a cause of it.’ Be patient – don’t finish other people’s sentences for them – and don’t give advice like 'slow down'. Simply listen.
Page created on March 11th, 2011
Page updated on September 28th, 2011