Watch Joe Biden speaking on his campaign trail and you may notice his speech isn’t always as smooth and self-assured as you might expect from a US presidential candidate. That’s not because he’s nervous, or under confident, it’s because for his entire life he has lived with a stammer. Something the press picked up on last year.
In fact, it’s estimated that around 1% of the world’s population stammer. That’s 70 odd million people who have a physical condition that makes it hard to talk, ranging from barely perceptible sounds and pauses, to speech that can have a profound effect on self-esteem and confidence.
In today’s blog I wanted to talk a bit about stammering and what you should do if you find yourself struggling to get your words out.
What is stammering?
Stammering, otherwise known as stuttering, is a fairly common speech condition in children – there are thought to be around 150,000 young stammerers in the UK alone – but can persist into adulthood. The condition tends to affect males to a far greater extent than females.
Listen to a person who stammers and you may notice differences in the fluency of the words or sentences they are speaking. They might repeat sounds or syllables, or they might elongate particular sounds, or it might be that the struggle to get the sound to come out at all. For some, this will occur every time they speak, for others periodically or in certain situations. For many, stammering can have a huge impact on their confidence and self-esteem.
What causes stammering?
By far the most common type of stammering begins in early childhood, as speech and language develops rapidly and connections are made in the brain. This can often be inherited – perhaps a father or grandfather had a stammer - making a child more likely to talk with the same patterns of speech.
And just because your child stammers, doesn’t mean that as an adult this will continue. Of the 1 in 12 children who go through a phase of stammering, studies suggest two thirds grow out of it. Many of the remainder seek professional help to find techniques and strategies to manage their stammer.
It is possible to start stammering later as an adult, but this is rarer, and a trigger, such as nerve damage due to a stroke, head injury or psychological trauma can usually be identified. It’s worth noting that if you suddenly start stuttering persistently as an adult you should take it seriously and seek help.
How to get help with stammering?
If you or your child begins to stammer, for whatever reason, to the point that it is causing upset or impacting on work or social activities, your first port of call should be your GP or family physician. They can refer you to a specialist speech and language therapist who will be able to support you. The time it takes for your appointment to come through will depend on where you live and the waiting lists of SLTs in the area.
When you attend your appointment, your SLT will take a case history and find out about you and how your stammer is affecting you. They will also assess your speech so they can begin to devise a plan to help you manage it. They may suggest specific techniques and strategies or take a more psychological approach and support you in learning to manage your stammer, depending on what you both decide is the most appropriate plan for you at that time. Speech therapy is not about just ‘stopping’ the stammering but about framing it as a less defining thing, reaching out to others who have the same challenge for support, and developing a positive attitude. All of which will naturally go some way to helping to overcome it.
For those who don’t want to, or are unable to access a speech therapist, there are plenty of programmes or courses that you can sign up for. These teach an array of tools and techniques for managing the condition. Have a look at City Lit, the McGuire Programme or Stamma’s Stammering Self-empowerment Programme.
And there are also electronic aids that can be used either alone or in tandem with one-to-one speech therapy or a programme like the ones above. DAF Pro from Speechtools Ltd is one such app that can help you to speak more fluently, should you want to in certain situations.
How does DAF Pro work?
Highlighted by both The Stuttering Foundation and The British Stammering Association, DAF Pro gives people a strategy and supporting tool to slow the speed of their speech and increase fluency. It works using delayed auditory feedback, something that won’t be new to speech therapists or people who stutterer. But something that has never been easy to access, needing expensive, cumbersome kit and usually a speech therapist to make it work.
The beauty of the app is it can be downloaded instantly so the user can record and play back their voice and hear any difference for themselves, trying out different settings to see what works. And they can use it when and if they want to, depending on the situation they’re in. It works to transform speech instantly and all from something you carry around in your pocket anyway.
One of my favourite stories about DAF Pro is the 20-year-old who had a neurological stammer following a brain injury. He wasn’t able to speak to his grandparents, they just couldn’t understand what he was saying. So he tried DAF Pro and it worked immediately to slow his speech and make it clearer. He now uses it every time he needs to speak to them – it’s been life changing.
Do you stutter or stammer? Whether you’re already working with a speech and language therapist or only just beginning your journey, why not download DAF Pro and give it a spin? You’ll be amazed how it can simply transform your talking during that meeting or presentation you’ve been dreading. Let us know how you get on!