Stammering Is No Joke

by Leys Geddes.

This movie was first posted on YouTube and is made available here with the permission of Mr. Geddes, not only for informational purposes, but also for students in speech-language pathology to practice evaluating a speech sample of a person who stutters.

Hi, I have a stammer, and I am going to try to tell you how that is. There are some people who are really nice to me and say, "Well, it's okay, you know, it's not a problem with me I hang on to see what you say." There are some other people who are not quite so nice and say, "Well, I am sure if you really get a grip of yourself, dear, it would be all right." And there are other people by whom I have been employed in the past who said, "We tried to accommodate the inadequacies of your speech but we can't anymore and as a result you're fired."

Although it's now clear that the root cause of stammering is a kind of faulty wiring of the brain, the exact cause is still not known. Yet the understanding of and the support for most other kinds of disability has improved greatly in the past two years. But, in many ways to have a difficulty in talking is just as life changing as to have a difficulty in walking and possibly more so because we are increasingly defined by how we talk and how we communicate. It's hard for us to change things because obviously most stammerers aren't good at talking and so we aren't keen to stand up and explain how it is. And the media aren't keen on providing us with time because stammering just does not make good TV or radio. And then there are some really unhelpful entertainment programs on TV or in film in which characters have been provided with a stammer in order to give the audience a cheap laugh or to indicate that they have some flaw in their personality, they are extremely indecisive, perhaps the murderer or whatever it is. As a result, if stammering is considered at all it tends to be treated as a joke and if you search YouTube after this, you'll see that there are many clips there that show people stammering or pretending to stammer, which are classified as comedy.

Few people understand what it is like if you have a stammer. It is because we were probably teased at school, so we tend not to volunteer our opinion, especially in public. And if we really want a particular job we may not mention on the application that we have stammer because we will not be asked for an interview. And, if we are in work we often fail discrimination or even a promotion and so therefore, though our skills are probably equal to anyone else's, we tend to adopt a higher profile.

But wherever we are, it is hard to be authoritative because as soon as we try to assert ourselves people are inclined to laugh at us. We are concerned about using the phone because we have been cut off too many times in the past by others for instance saying: "Are you on the mobile, Mike? You seem to be breaking up." Click. And if we are asked to do any kind of public speaking whether impromptu or prepared, we try not to get into arguments because we just can't say how we'll ever win them. And in my own case I know if I try to present a client I am supposed to be trying to impress them but I'll spend just about the whole of the time on making every effort I can to control my speech. Then during really simple everyday things like for instance ordering a sandwich can be extremely stressful. You're having to get a tuna baguette or something and you come out and in your hand is a kind of ham on white -- sorry. It's hard ordering a drink in a crowded pub for a new girlfriend -- that can easily end up as a disaster. It's often hard to buy tickets on the train, you end up in the wrong place, and if I'm in a restaurant and the waiter brings me something I haven't ordered, do I send it back?

Speech therapy will often control the effect of the stammer but as you can probably see few adults ever achieve complete natural fluency. So, please, if you know or meet someone who stammers, try and understand what it is for them and please, if you think stammering is a joke, just spend a few moments imagining how frustrated you would feel if you knew exactly what you wanted to say but you couldn't actually say it.