Young people

What causes stammering?

Are you a young person who stammers? In this section we take you through some key ideas from the research into what causes stammering. Relatively recent advances in brain imaging studies have shown that there are differences at a neurophysiological level that probably influence how quickly the speech motor system can work.  But we know that other things also factor in and that everyone is unique. Understanding more about stammering can help to demystify it and can be the starting place for making changes in how you manage your own stammer.

Genetics and brain function

Brain imaging studies (with children as young as 3) have shown that stammering is linked to subtle differences in the way that the brain has developed and how it processes speech.

This is genetically influenced. If you have a relative who stammers, or who used to stammer, this helps to explain why you stammer. It is not completely dictated by genes however – other things play a role.

Speech motor skills

Research has also found that adults who stammer have a less efficient speech mechanism and need a fraction more time when they are speaking.

This means that the faster you talk the more likely it is that you stammer.

Speech and language skills

Some children, teenagers and adults need more time to organise their thoughts.

Sometimes people have word finding difficulties. This means that you can’t think of the word that you want for a second or two. It’s on the tip of your tongue!

If you used to have, or still do have, any difficulties with language skills then this also helps to explain why you stammer.

Things about the situation

Some situations feel more pressured and this makes you more likely to stammer.

  • speaking in front of a lot of people (where it feels like everyone will look at you)
  • asking or answering a question in class
  • being suddenly put on the spot
  • oral exams
  • any time when you want to make a good impression (school or job interviews, meeting someone for the first time)
  • when everyone talks quickly and the conversation is fast
  • when people all talk at once and it’s hard to get a turn
    introducing yourself

Thoughts, emotions and temperament

  • The kind of person you are doesn’t cause stammering but it may help to explain how easy or difficult it is for you to deal with it.
  • People do not stammer because they are anxious or shy. People can become anxious or worried about stammering and more reserved about talking in social situations but this is because they stammer not the cause.
  • People who are more sensitive, perfectionistic, self-critical, or who worry a lot may find it harder having a stammer.
  • Everyone who stammers is different and many people who stammer are confident speakers who are not worried about having a stammer.
  • Therapy can help you learn ways to manage worries about stammering and uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, if this is relevant for you.

Read more about managing worry and anxiety.

Read about other ideas that may help.



Young people
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