Posted on: 21 October 2021

International Stammering Day happens on 22 October every year.

This year Speech and Language Therapists in Ealing Community Partners, together with members of our Disabled Employees Network, open up about what it’s like to stammer and how you can make a difference to someone with a developmental or neurological stutter.

Everyone who stammers has an individual experience of stammering. We spoke to two CNWL staff members about their experiences.

Michael Walker who has a stammerMichael Walker, an Education Administrator at the Trust, and a member of the Trust’s Disabled Employees Network, was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 18 and first began to stammer at around the age of 22. Michael says:

“My stammer was acquired later in life due to neurological damage.”

“Communication is more challenging for me in terms of understanding, recalling and conveying ideas than it is in terms of speaking. I struggle with practising vocal and speaking techniques on my own – I tend to find motivation through practising speaking with a teacher and/or other people. I also sing in a choir outside of work, and likewise I struggle to practice on my own but enjoy engaging with the group.”

Michael finds that being “voice active” and using “speaking circles” and casual conversations is the most beneficial thing for him. 

Many stammerers experience related issues around ‘cluttering’, which can partly be described as difficulty around sorting through multiple thoughts and ideas in speech. 

Nash Bageni, is the Team Lead for CNWL’s Rapid Response and Twilight Team in Uxbridge, he grew up with a developmental stammer. As an adult his stammer is hidden until he feels nervous or put on the spot.

“I need control of what I’m saying; I’m not good at reading from a script or something I haven’t prepared. I prefer to speak from memory or the heart. Otherwise I get blocks and can’t go through them. If I speak freely then it’s like jumping from branches – I can bridge the gap and find a way.

“The hardest thing at work is introducing myself in meetings. As the introduction gets closer I start to feel overwhelmed. Equally if there is a stressful situation that can be a trigger if I feel less in control.

Michael agrees

“When I first started in the CNWL Education Team, answering queries over the telephone was a significant element of my role. My role also initially contained a larger element of meetings and discussions, which I tend to struggle with. This has changed, and my role is now more to do with following planned procedures and taking a structured approach to queries, which I am more comfortable with.”

Michael is also a member of the Trust’s Disabled Employees Network (DEN). The network seeks to ensure disabled staff are given the same opportunities as their non-disabled colleagues and with career progression by giving them the reasonable adjustments, flexible working and agile working they need to do their job efficiently and comfortably.

Michael worked with the network and Trust to develop a workplace adjustment plan that managers and staff with a disability use as a framework to discuss any support or adjustments a staff member may need.

Michael concludes “While I tend to take situations at face-value, and am sometimes slow to process intentions and ideas, I have consistently found colleagues at CNWL to be helpful and accommodating around my stammer.”

Nash finds his colleagues supportive too

“Everyone I’ve worked with is very understanding. My colleagues accept me for who I am; an equal contributor.”

But Nash’s experience is a reminder about the importance of picking up difficulties in childhood.

“If it’s not picked up as a child you miss out. I could have done with some pointers. My support was self-made. My teacher tried to help and told me to read aloud but I found reading difficult and it took me longer to prepare.”

“It’s hard as a child but adults are more accepting. I encourage young people to make use of the support there is now.”


What to do if you have a stammer or how you can support stammerers

CNWL has 200 Speech and Language Therapies working in London and Milton Keynes to help children and adults with various communication and swallowing difficulties.

People can experience dysfluency for a number of different reasons and Speech and Language Therapists can assess and advise strategies to support people who stammer.

Azra Hassanali, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, and staff in Ealing Community Partners Speech and Language Service, run jointly by CNWL and West London NHS Trust explain more in a short film below. They say

“About 5 per cent of children stammer usually between the ages of 2 and 5 years old and 1 per cent of adults have a stammer; with the condition more often affecting men than women.”

Their top tips include

  • avoid finishing sentences if someone is struggling to get their words out
  • give them enough time to finish what they're saying without interrupting
  • avoid asking them to speak faster or more slowly instead slow down your own rate of talking. This will help them feel less rushed
  • show interest in what they're saying, not how they're saying it, and maintain eye contact.

Nash adds to these reminders with a call to allow someone to battle through it so they can speak freely: |"If you interrupt it gets worse and leads them to withdraw."

If you would like to talk to someone about your stammer or your child’s stammer; see our service pages for speech and language therapy and how to access these services.