It's estimated that around 1% of the world's population stutters. That's over 70 million people. Stuttering, also referred to as stammering in the UK, is relatively common in childhood with about 5% of children going through a period of stuttering. Around 80% of children will stop stuttering, with or without intervention, but for 20% of people, their stutter will continue into adulthood. Stuttering is an invisible disability as until a person that stutters starts a conversation with you their disability is not immediately obvious.
How does stuttering start?
Stuttering often begins between the ages of two and eight, when children’s language abilities are developing at an accelerated pace. Children who stutter know exactly what it is they want to say, but struggle with articulating it.
As you can imagine, for many children that stutter, their experience of the school classroom can be an unpleasant one, filled with teasing, bullying and feelings of isolation. To try and stop this teasing or bullying, a child that stutters may start to avoid speaking, sit at the back of the class or start answering a teacher’s questions with 'I don't know' because they're afraid of stuttering. A child that stutters might refrain from using difficult words or dodge opportunities to speak, substituting words for gestures and using very short sentences to communicate, or they may allow other children to speak for them. For these children, simple classroom tasks like reading out loud, or asking the teacher a question can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment.
These negative, early experiences set a precedent for how that person feels about their stutter as they enter adulthood and beyond. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, anxiety and a fear of speaking can develop and become embedded.
Is it hard to find a job with a stutter?
Let's think about a standard recruitment process for pretty much any job: You advertise a role, candidates submit their CVs, you invite a selection of these candidates to attend an interview. . . If you stutter, can you imagine how daunting it must be to attend an interview? Interviews are a stressful experience for anyone; meeting with a new person, in a new place and trying to present yourself in the best possible light.
With a heightening of stress surrounding speaking, people who stutter may try and mask or hide their stutter. They may attempt to cover up their stutter by repeating certain words or phrases, by speaking very quickly or by not speaking at all. People that are masking may appear uncertain or confused. And when people try to hide their stutter it generally becomes worse. It's easy to see why it's often difficult for someone who stutters to get beyond a first interview.
Of the 70 million people that stutter, it's estimated that 50 million are of working age. People who stutter can make extremely valuable contributions to the workplace, but unfortunately, these skills and talents are sometimes overlooked or under-utilised because of misconceptions and negative stereotyping about stuttering. For an individual to be judged solely based on language fluency is not only unfair to the person who stutters – it can be a real skill loss to the employer.
How to listen to a person who stutters during an interview?
Stuttering is nothing to be embarrassed about for the person who stutters or the listener. The following are some tips that should make the conversation easier:
- Help the candidate feel at ease and overcome negative feelings surrounding speaking.
- Listen attentively and wait for the person to finish.
- Don’t try to fill in words or complete the person’s sentences.
- Don't tell them to “slow down” or “relax”.
- Maintain natural eye contact, even when the person is stuttering.
- Focus on what the person is saying, not how they are saying it.
How to support an employee that stutters
The NSA (National Stuttering Association) introduced the We Stutter@Work initiative back in 2019 to eliminate workplace stigma surrounding stuttering and improve the employment outcomes for people that stutter.
Their website, westutter.org. contains a plethora of information about stuttering and how to best support an employee that stutters.
By supporting the Sunflower, your organisation offers people that stutter the option to choose to wear the Sunflower to indicate that they may require patience and understanding from co-workers, customers and suppliers. They can do this through wearing one of our Sunflower lanyards, wristbands or pin badges. And don't forget we also have our digital meeting backgrounds and email signature logos that can be downloaded from our site, so that your employee can also feel supported online.
International Stuttering Day – Being Seen, Being Heard
Although International Stuttering Day falls on Saturday 22 October, there will be a forum of information available throughout the month of October at isad.live
The theme of this year's awareness day is – Being seen, Being heard with a focus on representation and normalisation of stuttering in the mainstream.
The online conference features papers posted by peers and professionals, kids and teens that explore both lived experiences of stuttering, academic research, therapy and support. There's an interactive element where you can put any questions you may have to a person who stutters and/or various professionals within the field. There's also a section that highlights the many events going on around the world on 22 October.