by John Ahlbach 

During my ten years as Executive Director of the NSP, I have talked with a couple of thousand people who stutter, at workshops, in support groups meetings, and over the phone. Depending on their need, I have handed out much advice, shared many experiences, listened to many stories, and directed many towards possible solutions to some of their problems. I hope I have made everyone I have talked to feel accepted and passed onto them a feeling that they (we) are not in this alone. But there is one thing I wish I cannot do for people who stutter (including myself) and that is to say to them, "Do this, and your stuttering will no longer be a problem for you."

I wish I could say this to people, especially the young ones. It would make my job and my life a lot easier. "Do this, and stutter no more, my friend. Take all the energy, you have been putting into your stuttering and use it on something else." But I can't say this, can I? Sometimes I don't get a chance to say anything at all. Once a month or so, I will pick up the phone and listen to dead silence on the other end for four or five minutes. I've timed it. Finally, that awful "click" will end our silent interaction and we will both be left with a feeling of hopelessness.

But, hey, the good news is stuttering is anything but hopeless, right. Yes, its frustrating and can feel demeaning, but if understood, and confronted, it need not change the quality of one's life. I would even say, that it can enhance one's life experience. You know the expression, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger"? Stuttering is a chronic problem, but it is also a chronic challenge which calls on us to be more than we might normally be. I don't think I would love my job as much if I could just say, "Do this, and everything will be fine." I don't think I would like myself as much either.

Please know what I share below is not meant to replace a speech therapy program. The first advice I would give someone, for that matter, is to find an effective, experienced therapist with whom to work. Stuttering is a tough nut, and must be "cracked" using multiple tools and much support. When tackling something like stuttering, you should have a coach, someone to instruct you as to what those tools are, and to inspire, listen and motivate you as well. The right speech-language pathologist is the coach you need. There are no easy answers to stuttering, but here is what I would like you to consider.


  1. You are not alone. One percent of adults and four percent of children on planet Earth stutter (the British call it stammering).

  2. There is every indication that stuttering has a physical cause. What exactly causes it we do not know, but more evidence is appearing each year which points to some breakdown in the neurological system of people who stutter. It almost always starts in childhood and definitely runs in families. My guess is that more than half of you can point to someone else in your family who stutters or who stuttered at one time. Boys who stutter outnumber girls who stutter by at least 5 to 1. (This is the same gender ratio reported for such learning disabilities as dyslexia and dysgraphia).

  3. Stuttering is not your fault, not is it a product of nervousness or a lousy self-image. You do not stutter because you are nervous; rather you are nervous because you stutter. There is no personality trait shared by people who stutter that can be said to cause this disorder. We are no more shy or nervous than anyone else.

  4. What seems to belie the above theory is that we do not stutter all the time. But this just means that the systems doesn't break down all the time. (A person with epilepsy is not having a seizure all the time either.) It breaks down to a different degree in different people who stutter. And within each one of us, there is room for much fluctuation. All people I have talked to have reported having "good" days and "bad" days for which they could not account.

  5. People who stutter don't stutter, generally, when they sing, whisper, speak in chorus, and, mostly, when they are alone or being totally spontaneous.

  6. There is no therapy program which will make you fluent without your working hard at it. There is no easy technique which will take your stuttering away from you. You must make the therapy work for you by adopting the following attitudes:


  • Avoid thinking of yourself as a "stutterer". Stuttering is something you do, it is not something you are. You are a "person who stutters". Stuttering is only part of you, not the whole of you. If you did not stutter, you would still be pretty much the same person you are now, wouldn't you?

  • Give yourself time. You have been stuttering (I imagine) for a long time. Don't expect yourself to overcome all of your fears and change all of your speech habits overnight.

  • Make your life situations "stutterable". Expect yourself to stutter to some degree, especially in situations you have found difficult in the past.

  • When you are having a "bad" day, hang in there. Everyone I have ever talked to who stutters reports the same thing. Give yourself more permission to stutter on these days, and look forward to the "good" days which will certainly follow.

  • Never feel or demonstrate shame or feel you have to apologize for you stuttering. You did not choose to stutter, and it does not reflect some weakness in your personality.

  • Don't feel that stuttering is keeping you back from being whoever you want to be. All right, I would make a lousy newscaster probably, but there are a lot of things I am not good at. You have a right to be taken for the person you are, and the quality of your communication, not for the cosmetics of your speech. Fluency is only one aspect of good communication.

  • You should feel that it is your responsibility to stutter openly and honestly and to educate the people you come into contact with about your stuttering. Do not expect them to respond appropriately, if you are not up- front about it. In this sense, you have control over how others treat your stuttering. People will generally react to your stuttering in the same way you do.


    I can only give you a general list here. For much more comprehensive guide to the positive steps you can take to get control over your stuttering and your feelings about it, order Self-Therapy for the Stutterer published by the Speech Foundation of America. You can order this from us for just $4.

    1. Get in touch with and enjoy the fluency you do have. Learn to like the sound of your voice.

    2. Talk with as much aliveness and assertiveness in your voice as you can. Make people pay attention to what you are saying, not how you are saying it.

    3. If you have (what you consider) a severe speech block, forget about it. There is nothing you can do about it after the fact. Don't try to make up for it by trying to be more fluent because this will only make matters worse (you have probably experienced this). No, on the contrary, use the severe stuttering to give yourself permission to relax your standards and speak more freely. Learn to accept the worst before it happens, and you will lose much of your fear.

    4. Learn to be kinder to yourself and less punishing.

    5. Make a start at speaking in situations you have often avoided, and using words you fear. Do not be compulsive about too much at once. Make an effort to achieve this in a gradual way.

    6. Do you sometimes feel that someone is holding a stopwatch and a spotlight on you when you are talking? Well, slow down and take the heat off. You decide how much time and space you should demand when you are speaking. Take your time when talking. This does not mean dragging out your words in a drawl, just give yourself more time to get out what you want to say and pause more than you do now.

    7. Advertise the fact that you stutter. If you let people know what is going on with you, it makes it easier on you both. Talk about your involvement with the NSP, too, and what you are doing to help others.

    8. Don't seek to hide your stuttering. For one thing, you are probably not succeeding very well at doing that anyway. (One expert said that hiding stuttering is like someone trying to hid a watermelon under their shirt.) And avoid a lot of word substitutions. This is a habit we have all gotten into at one time or another. Avoiding certain words can make your fear and shame greater, and makes you less able to face the future. By substituting words we are pretending our problem does not exist. Stutter openly and honestly s much as you can. It makes you stronger when you do.

    9. Use good eye contact when talking and especially when stuttering.

    10. Stuttering is probably the most intimate thing in your life. Learn as much as you can about stuttering and teach others about it. People will listen to you because it is important to you, and because stuttering is a fascinating subject. They will respect you for your knowledge and your courage.

    11. Reach out to others who stutter. Millions of children and adults need your support just as you would welcome theirs.

    12. Work at reducing the anticipation of feared words. Keep your focus on what you are doing and feeling at that moment. Rehearsing a situation beforehand will only build up the pressure and result in more stuttering.

    13. When appropriate, show a sense of humor about your stuttering. You will be amazed how much laughter can relax you and your listener. What you can laugh at can't hurt you.

    14. Talk a lot, especially on your "good" days. In general, don't measure your progress by how many speech blocks you have. Real progress is measured by how much you do not let stuttering stop you from being the most loving, the most confident, and the happiest person you can be. Don't fight, but open up to your stuttering, let it be, and you'll find it is not such a monster after all.

    As Erich Fromm said so well: "There is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing which gives us greater joy and happiness than to think, to feel, or to say what is ours."

    Please Note: My thanks to Fred Murray, NSP co- founder Bob Goldman, and Carl Dell whose ideas provided a lot of the inspiration for the above.

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