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“Covert stuttering can create a great deal of anxiety”

Stuttering can silence people. This seems to apply to young girls to a greater extent, says Ineke Samson, who studies gender differences in stuttering.

Name: Ineke Samson
Title: Speech therapist at the Department of Speech and Language Pathology, Danderyd Hospital and doctoral student at the Division of Speech and Language Pathology, Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet.
Conducts research into: Gender differences in stuttering in young women and men.

Ineke Samson. Photo: Joel Nilsson
Ineke Samson. Photo: Joel Nilsson

 “When the patient, let’s call her Lena, came to me, she did not have an audible stutter, but it still caused her suffering and she had constant anxiety about her speech. When I suggested that stuttering was the most likely primary cause, she broke won.  After two years of therapy, the treatment concluded and Lena felt relieved. Now, she allows her stuttering be heard. 

The condition that had been tormenting her is called covert stuttering. People around those who have it do not notice the stuttering as the person has developed strategies for hiding it, such as speaking less, swapping out words or pretending to not understand. Treatment consists of practicing different techniques, but also support discussions where the patient is helped to speak without constraints, thereby exposing their stuttering.

About as many boys as girls begin to stutter as children. For many, the stuttering goes away as the brain continues to develop, but around one per cent of the adult population have a stutter. Our studies have shown that teenage girls find their stuttering to be more troublesome than boys the same age. They appear to be hiding their stuttering more often and have a greater need to feel “ordinary”. They often also feel completely alone in dealing with their troubles. I am currently conducting in-depth interviews with young women and men who have decided to hide their stuttering to investigate why they have chosen this particular strategy. The idea is to listen to personal experiences of stuttering.

Conducting research into covert stuttering is challenging as the condition is not clearly defined. This is however something that is required in order to provide the right care to each person. Covert stuttering can create a great deal of anxiety and can fundamentally limit a person’s life. Just saying their own name can be very difficult. After all, that word cannot be swapped out.”

As told to: Cecilia Odlind, first published in Swedish in Medicinsk Vetenskap No 4/2019.