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What is stammering?

Stammering is a neurological condition which makes it physically hard to speak. Someone who stammers will repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person struggles to get the word out.

Learning to talk is like learning to walk – it doesn’t always go smoothly! Stammering is thought to be caused by a slight difference in how the brain is wired.  In young children this wiring is still forming, which is why many children recover from stammering.

Stammering is primarily a neurological condition, not a psychological one. What is clear is that parents do not cause stammering. But the way you respond to your child's stammer can make a real difference.

Signs of stammering

When a child…

  • Stretches sounds in a word, repeats parts of words several times, or gets stuck on the first sound of a word so no sound comes out for a few seconds.
  • Puts extra effort into saying specific sounds or words. You might notice tension in the face around the eyes, lips and jaw.
  • Holds their breath or take a big breath before speaking, so their breathing seems uneven.
  • Uses other body movements to help get a word out - they might stamp their foot or move their head. 
  • Loses eye-contact when getting stuck on a word.
  • Starts to try to hide their stammer - they might pretend they’ve forgotten what they want to say, change a word they have started to say or go unusually quiet.

Top Tips for Teachers

  • When talking to a pupil, ensure that you maintain eye contact and give them time to finish what they are saying.
  • Slow your own rate of speech.
  • Avoid finishing the pupil’s sentences.
  • Praise the pupil for things that they have done well / what they are good at.
  • Avoid telling the pupil what to do to help his/her stammer (e.g. stop, slow down, take a breath) as this could negatively highlight the stammer and increase the pressure on them to be fluent.
  • Make it easier for the pupil to answer questions by asking for a shorter response e.g. “tell me one thing about…”
  • If the pupil wants to, give him/her an early turn during classroom discussions to decrease the amount of time s/he has to wait for a turn.
  • Teachers may want to speak to the pupil privately about his/her stammer and ask the pupil how they would like to be supported in class. S/he may want to volunteer when ready to speak, or may prefer you to pick them.
  • Closely monitor peer interaction for any signs of bullying behaviour towards the pupil, e.g. negative reactions such as laughing or imitation of the stammer.
  • Encourage everyone to contribute in class. Begin with short spoken contributions to a small audience of familiar faces, if necessary allowing pupils to read / answer in unison. Then increase the length of contributions, and/or the size or familiarity of the audience.
  • Be aware that pupils who stammer sometimes hide their difficulty by not contributing, pretending they do not know or asking to be excused.
  • As a stammer can be variable, some days the pupil may prefer not to speak. This is something to negotiate rather than be encouraged long term.

If you or your child, are worried about stammering, please refer to your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy Service

Pre School:

Referral form along with more information is available at this link:

SLT Central Line: 020 8102 3575

School Age:

Children can be referred to the School Aged Dysfluency Service by their GP. If a referral is required, please ask your GP to complete a referral form and email it to Referral forms can be found here and will be accepted from any GP in H&F, Westminster or K&C. GPs in other boroughs should refer to their local services.

Last Updated 21/07/2020

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