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 this 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.
If you stutter, or stuttered as a child, your experience of the school classroom may have been an unpleasant one; filled with teasing, bullying and feelings of isolation. To try and stop this teasing or bullying, children that stutter 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. Perhaps you would refrain from using difficult words or dodge opportunities to speak, substituting words for gestures and using very short sentences to communicate, or maybe you allowed other children to speak for you? For children that stutter, 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 can 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. If you are experiencing any of these feelings about your stutter, there are lots of resources and help available at the National Stuttering Association.
Is it hard to find a job with a stutter?
Let's think about a standard recruitment process for pretty much any job: You see a role advertised, submit your CV, if your CV is a good match for the role, you will most probably be invited to attend an interview. . . If you stutter, the prospect of attending an interview can be extremely daunting. 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. 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 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 prepare for an interview if you stutter
The NSA (National Stuttering Association) introduced the WeStutter@Work initiative back in 2019 to eliminate workplace stigma surrounding stuttering and improve the employment outcomes for people that stutter.
As part of this initiative, there is a whole section of the WeStutter@Work site dedicated to helping you gain experience and confidence before going to your next job interview.
The NSA offers free online job interview practice sessions to help you make a great first impression. These online video interviews, via Zoom, give you access to about 30 minutes of interview time followed by feedback and discussion. People conducting the interviews stutter and are NSA volunteers.
“As a person who stutters, I always feel anxious about interviews. Sometimes, even when I disclose my stuttering, I still believe it makes me incompetent for the job. The mock interview was an opportunity for me to practice disclosing my stuttering. Pam’s supportive feedback during my session meant a lot to me. By the way, I did find a great job.” – Tracy W.
In addition to the free online practice interviews, the NSA has also developed a guide sharing helpful job interview tips. This guide was written by a person who stutters for people who stutter. You’ll learn how to effectively prepare, gain ideas on disclosing your stutter, and ways to answer common job interview questions.
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.
How can the Sunflower help?
Without a visual cue, it can be difficult for others to identify, acknowledge, or understand the daily barriers faced by people living with an invisible disability, like stuttering. By choosing to wear the Sunflower, you're letting people know that you have a non-obvious disability and may require patience, understanding and a bit more time.