Many experts have tried to define the actual characteristics of stammering but of course these can change from day to day and from moment to moment. Sometimes the characteristics are described simply as the changes in the speech. But this is a very narrow way of analysing a complicated problem such as stammering.
Features such as repetitions, prolongations, blocks, struggle and physical movements are often described. Some of these depend on how long you have been stammering and how many coping strategies you use to stop, avoid or hide the problem. These may have helped at first but may also, in the long run, have made it worse.
This describes repeating either the whole word or part of the word too many times. So it might be like saying "da - da - da - dad" or "m - m - m - my", or if it is the whole word "my my my my my name is is is, my name is, my name is...". It is as if you are endlessly tripping up over the words.
Another way in which it feels as if the talking has just got "stuck" in some way, you just can't finish the sound and get on to the next one. For example, instead of saying "seven", it comes out as "sssssssssssseven". For some people this prolonging of the sound can feel as if it has lasted for ages, even though it might be milliseconds of time.
Some people don't have any repetitions or any prolongations, but what they do have is total blocks in their speech. These can be almost silent. It is as if the mouth has become stuck. Some people say it feels like their tongue is stuck inside their mouth or the air has become trapped inside the voice box.
The blocking can also be associated with struggle or excessive tension as you try to force your mouth to work. There may be extra noises as you push the words out. The harder you push, the worse the block. You may go back over the previous few words to try to release it and nothing happens. You may try to move your hands, feet or whole body to release the tension. Finally you do get the word out - relief, until someone says "What?" - because the blocking and struggling have meant that they have lost their place in what you are saying, or because the word came out in such a rush that they couldn't understand it.
So those things can happen to your actual talking but there may be other things that you do to try to control the problem too.
What we find here is that some people have been incredibly clever and developed a huge dictionary of words inside their heads so that when a problem word comes up, they can find an alternative that is not so hard to say - perhaps it starts with an easier sound. Other clever tricks might include pretending not to have heard, adding little phrases such as "kind of", "y'know", or using a swear word!
As we have said, some situations feel far harder to face than others and many teenagers have told us about the tricks and strategies they use to avoid having to speak. For example, missing certain lessons, not putting a hand up to answer questions (even though they know the answer perfectly well), or saying "I don't know", always having the right money in shops or on buses, pretending to be foreign, only shopping in supermarkets, getting others to make phone calls, etc. The list is endless. Of course these tricks are not only associated with stammering, they are used by lots of other people who don't like talking in front of others.
Most people really don't understand!
You probably know that many people do not understand the problem of stammering. These people have never met anyone who stammers although they still may have an opinion on the problem. It is also harder to explain when you have developed clever tricks to hide or minimise the difficulty. Part of getting help might be learning to be more open about it. That takes courage but therapy can help.How can I get help?