There are different treatments available for stammering, depending on a person's age and their circumstances.
A speech and language therapist (SLT) will work with you, your child, and educational staff to make a suitable treatment plan for your child.
An SLT can also work with adults who stammer, to find ways to improve the fluency of their speech and reduce the impact stammering has on their lives.
You may be able to access psychological therapy to help with any emotional problems linked to speech difficulties.
Speech and language therapy is widely available on the NHS for people who stammer, although the level of service and waiting times vary across the country. Some treatments, such as feedback devices, may not be funded.
If you're aged 18 or older and cannot get therapy in your area, Stamma (The British Stammering Association) offers speech therapy via a video call using Skype or Facetime.
Indirect therapy is where parents make changes to the way they communicate and the home environment, rather than focusing directly on their child's talking.
If your child is under 5, this is probably the approach your therapist will suggest you try first.
However, if a young child has been stammering for several months and it seems to be getting worse, it may be best to start direct therapy straight away.
Indirect approaches are often based on the concept that children start to stammer when they cannot keep up with the demands made on their language skills.
These "demands" may come from other people around them or from a child's own enthusiasm and determination to communicate.
The aim of indirect therapy is to create an environment where a child feels less pressure when speaking.
This may involve:
- speaking slowly and calmly to your child
- encouraging taking turns and listening within the family
- doing more of what seems to help your child's fluency – for example, chatting about what you and your child are doing together, such as playing, cooking, walking to pre-school, or looking at favourite books
- not interrupting or criticising your child
- making the family environment as relaxing and calm as possible
The Lidcombe Program is a widely used direct behavioural therapy for the treatment of stammering in young children.
It's designed to be done by the child's parents under the guidance of a speech and language therapist (SLT).
The Lidcombe Program is based on the principle of providing consistent feedback to your child about their speech in a friendly, non-judgemental and supportive way.
The Speech Disorder website has more information about the Lidcombe Program.
Stammering that persists until a child is old enough to go to school is significantly more challenging to treat.
As time passes, the effects of stammering become an additional part of the problem. These include anxiety about speaking, fear of stammering, and feelings of embarrassment.
Therapy with older children and adults will often take account of both the speaking behaviours and the social, emotional and psychological aspects of stammering.
With school-age children, direct therapy is often used to:
- help improve fluency
- help the child understand more about stammering
- share experiences with others who stammer
- work on feelings associated with stammering, such as fear and anxiety
- improve communication skills
- develop self-confidence and positive attitudes
Other treatment options
In addition to direct and indirect therapy, there are other options that can help people who stammer, particularly older children and adults with persistent stammering and those who develop stammering later in life (acquired or late-onset stammering).
These include solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), personal construct therapy, neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
These therapies do not treat stammering directly, but can be helpful if you experience negative feelings as a result of your stammering.
Feedback devices alter the way you hear your own voice. They include:
- delayed auditory feedback (DAF) – these play your voice back to you a fraction of a second after speaking
- frequency-shifted auditory feedback (FSAF) – these play your voice back to you at a lower or higher frequency
- combined DAF/FSAF devices – these use a combination of both methods mentioned above
These devices are often fitted inside or around the ear, similar to a hearing aid, and can help improve the fluency of some people's speech. There are also apps for smartphones and computers that work in a similar way.
These techniques do not work for everyone and can be difficult to use in some speaking situations. The devices are not generally available on the NHS.
Find out more about electronic devices and apps from Stamma.
Speaking to someone who stammers
When talking to someone who stammers, try to:
- avoid finishing their sentences if they're 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
- show interest in what they're saying, not how they're saying it, and maintain eye contact
Speak slowly and calmly when talking to a young child who stammers. Use short sentences and simple language to reduce the communication demands on the child.
Do not overwhelm your child by talking too quickly. Make sure you give them time to understand and process what you've said, and work out their response.