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Cover image for A St-St-Stuttering Developer

A St-St-Stuttering Developer

jackdomleo7 profile image Jack Domleo Updated on ・10 min read

All my articles are first published and hosted on my blog - you can find this article here. You may also be interested in my tweets on my Twitter profile and my monthly newsletter. πŸ”₯


Do you know someone who stutters? I stutter. My stutter doesn't hold me back from being a developer.

What is a stutter?

A stutter, which can also be more formally known as a stammer is a type of speech impediment that occurs when:

  • you repeat sounds or syllables (E.g. "m-m-m-monkey")
  • sounds are extended (E.g. "mmmmmmonkey")
  • words or sounds get stuck or don't come out
  • a stutter can often cause a stutterer to make weird facial expressions while they are stuttering

The severity of a stutter can vary based on:

  • The person
  • The specific situation

Anyone can stutter, some people are diagnosed with it. Why?

Not everyone is perfect, some people who are not diagnosed can still have an occasional stutter - a really common example is when they're scared (E.g. "G-g-ghost!"). But some people are diagnosed with it by a professional speech therapist, like myself. There are two types of stutterers:

  • developmental stammering: the most common that happens in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing quickly
  • acquired or late-onset stammering: is relatively rare and happens in older children and adults as a result of a head injury, stroke or progressive neurological condition. It can also be caused by certain drugs, medicines, or psychological or emotional trauma

I've had developmental stammering since I could talk and it's never gone away... But, it has gotten a lot easier.

My experience

Childhood (Ages 3 - 15)

Childhood is where the majority of stammers occur. But most of them will fade away over time, some will not.

My childhood was difficult because no-one really knew what a stutter was and let's face the facts, kids are mean. It's true. If you are different, you get picked on.

My stutter was the worst in my younger years - I was stuttering on literally every syllable (E.g. "Hhhhi, mmmy n-n-n-n-name i-is J-j-j-jack."). Very few people could understand what I was saying, because by the time I'd finished the sentence, they'd already forgotten what I said at the start.

I attended speech therapy for 10 years, between the ages of 5 and 15, where I learned various speech techniques. We called my stutter, "bumpy talk" πŸ˜…. You wouldn't notice a stutterer using these techniques unless you were told about it. Some techniques were:

  • Breathing
  • Slowing down
  • Facing the fear head-on
  • Ease into a word
  • Think about what you want to say before you say it
  • Breaking up sentences into manageable chunks
  • And more

These are really useful to help overcome stuttering but almost always we have to decide the best technique for a situation almost instantly - we don't have time to plan our conversations.

I let my fear hold me back from nearly everything - speaking in school assemblies, school plays, to friends and family, on the phone, on Xbox Live etc.

Teenager and adulthood (Ages 15+)

By 15, I was nearing the end of my monthly speech therapy and was a lot more comfortable with speaking:

  • I stutter once or twice a sentence (dependent on the words used and length of the sentence)
  • My friends were getting older and they understood more about my stutter
  • I was using the techniques I learned nearly all the time
  • I faced my fear head-on - I offered to speak in front of people

I used to get offended when someone made a little joke and genuinely was curious about my stutter - I instantly thought they were making fun of me. I learned to become immune to being offended because in fact, they were not trying to offend me. Some people are really interested in my stutter and I am always happy to answer any curiosity they may have. But, I've learned to joke with people and make jokes about stuttering too. For example, I joked that I would be a perfect voice actor to sing the theme tune for Dora the Explorer ("D-D-D-D-D-Dora...") - A children's TV show that encourages adventure and learning Spanish.

I used to tell people I stuttered before engaging in a conversation - I no longer do this. I will engage in any conversation, and if I'm asked if I stutter, I don't get offended, I don't get upset or embarrassed, I straight up say, "Yes, thank you for noticing" πŸ™‚.

I hardly stutter any more but I have periods where I do. If my stress levels are high, I'm more likely to stutter. If my stress levels are low, then I'm calm, and I probably won't stutter and will feel much better about myself. But when I do stutter, I really don't care because I'm allowed to.

Getting older, my stutter, my attitude towards my stutter and other people's responses to my stutter have greatly improved and I am eternally grateful for that! πŸ™ As a child, other children would laugh at my stutter, but it's obvious as an adult that's no longer the case. Don't get me wrong though, I do encounter the odd person who decides to shame me for my stutter but I learned to ignore the hate a long time ago.

I don't let my stutter hold me back from anything anymore - and I mean nothing! I will happily make a phone call, talk up in meetings, do public speaking if I had the opportunity, and many more speaking activities because I'm not embarrassed of my stutter and I won't let it prevent me from being where I want to be.

Working with someone who stutters

I turned to my colleagues prior to writing this article because I wanted their opinions on what it's like to work with me (someone who stutters). Some of my colleagues have asked to remain anonymous but were happy for me to use their response and I have respected their decision.

Hi all, bit of a strange request but I appreciate anything, good or bad!! I want to write an article about stuttering in the workplace (title to be confirmed). On Twitter, I've had fellow stutterers approach me asking how I work, etc. So I thought I'd write an article to help raise awareness and raise their spirits. I'd like to write a section with quotes about how people who work with me feel. So, what's it like working with someone with a stutter? Did it take you time to get used to? Did you have to ask me what the right thing to do is? Thank you in advance! I can reference you in the article, but if you'd rather it be anonymous, that's ok too. 😊

- Me

-

I would say that for me, it's fighting the urge to not complete words or sentences on your behalf. To do so would be rather presumptious, at least to my mind. My internal monologue gets to a point where I'm chivvying you on, "Come on Jack, you got this. Spit it out man!" πŸ˜ƒ

- Andrew Baker

-

I had a good friend when I was a teenager who had a stutter. We used to play Quake at LAN parties together. He had a specific trigger that made him stutter. In his case it was when he was about to say something hilarious. The more he stuttered the more we knew the punchline was going to be a killer, so we waited with baited breath for it. He never disappointed. I guess from that experience I know to simply wait patiently. Hope that is the right thing to do.

- Anonymous

-

Sometimes there's an urge to complete a word/sentence. πŸ˜… I obviously ignore that urge. Also that's a solid idea for a blog article. πŸ‘Œ

- Anonymous

-

Sometimes I feel awkward for you, like I'm willing you to get through it, but that feels like my issue and not yours. I'm always impressed by how you don't let it stop you speaking out, I'm much shyer in meetings than you are.

This discussion has prompted me to read up about stuttering and it's quite fascinating. I was a stutterer at nursery age, but it just seemed to go away after a few years. Apparently this is quite common, over half of childhood cases spontaneously resolve. I never really considered asking you how I should deal with your stutter, but that's the same way I wouldn't ask a non-native English speaker how to deal with the fact that their language isn't 100%. We just adapt and deal with it, and don't really give it much thought.

- Ste Robson

-

At first I thought it was nervousness but then I realised it was a stutter. It didn't take me long at all to get used to it but I am a quiet person and usually listen rather than talk. Though your last question made me realise I should have asked you about it rather than assumed, so apologies for that, I am always worried about asking and being rude.

- Spencer Hall

Some interesting and honest responses here. Some I predicted, some I did not. I understand a stutter can put fellow colleagues (or anyone for that matter) in an awkward position because they don't really know how to approach it. I want to say thank you to my current colleagues for their responses above and that you've done nothing in the wrong at all, you all approached it in your own way. πŸ’ͺ

How can I help someone with a stutter?

This is the single most asked question I get about my stutter πŸ˜…. So, here are some common things we stutterers appreciate:

  • Don't finish our sentences.
    • There is nothing more annoying than me struggling on a word and the other person sitting words trying to guess what I'm going to say πŸ˜….
  • Don't use our stutter as your chance to interrupt.
    • Just because I'm stuttering and it appears the conversation has come to a pause, this is not your cue to speak. This is different when on a voice call because it's not always obvious if we're stuttering or if we're genuinely done talking.
  • If you notice we stutter, don't be afraid to ask.
  • Don't assume we will let our stutter hold us back.
  • Be patient, we will eventually say what we need to say.
  • You can make jokes but don't shame us.

Keeping these key points in mind can ensure a healthy conversation 😊.

Two people talking with one guessing words while the other stutters.


https://www.frontiersin.org/files/Articles/494542/frym-07-00153-HTML-r1/image_m/figure-3.jpg

What is it like?

I take my stutter with me everywhere I go. It's been by my side through school, extra-curricular activities and work. I've demonstrated it to my friends, family, colleagues and strangers I happen to be in conversation with. For most stutterers, school is the hardest part because you're prone to being made fun of - I was often greeted with "Hey J-J-J-Jack, HAHA". Working in retail and an office environment, I can honestly say I've had no issues at all, except maybe a few incidents in retail. I'd expect no issues from an office because it's more of a formal environment, however I was expecting some negativity working in retail. The only issues I encountered in retail are when I encountered a customer who was initially not particularly happy when they entered the shop. They'd approach me demanding, "Show me where these are [them showing me an item of clothing they've previously purchased]! I want an exchange." This instantly shocked me and raised my stress levels, I would often stutter in these situations, with one man storming off saying, "For God sake, I haven't got time for this." But for the most part, I never encounter any issues with anyone. πŸ™‚

Stutterers in the wild

Below are some resources about stuttering that I really like.

King George VI of England and The King's Speech

His majesty, King George VI, reigned during World War 2. He became king when his older brother, King Edward VIII resigned in . King George had a stutter which made him afraid of becoming King. A movie was released in called The King's Speech, which is one of the most inspiring stutter stories, in my opinion.

Porky Pig from Looney Tunes

Porky Pig stutters because his voice actor stutters, Joe Dougherty. I could relate to Porky Pig as a child because of my love for Looney Tunes and because I also spoke very fast and didn't think about what I wanted to say. Watch Porky Pig's debut here.

Porky Pig


Porkky Pig from Giphy https://media.giphy.com/media/xa5MHnjO4pxNC/giphy.gif

Fermat Hackenbacker from Thunderbirds

Fermat Hackenbacker is a fictional character from the TV show and movie, The Thunderbirds. I really like this scene between Fermat and his father, Brains.

Samuel L. Jackson

This icon needs no introduction, but, did you know he used to stutter? You can watch an interview here. They say some stutters have a trigger, a word or phrase they say when they get annoyed at stuttering. Mine used to be "sugar!" Samuel L. Jackson's trigger is a little more... explicit. "M*th*rf*ck*r" is his trigger word, which is part of the reason you hear him saying it a lot in movies; it's like his catchphrase.

Vice President Joe Biden

All politics aside, Joe Biden is a very inspirational man when on the topic of stuttering. I really love this speech he did.

Drew Lynch

Drew Lynch is a late stutterer due to a softball injury, but he turned his stutter into a positive. He entered America's Got Talent and did extremely well!

Woman in the audience on Steve Harvey show

A brave young woman receives advice for past stutterer Steve Harvey and is truly great! - Watch here.


This article was written because I've had a few people message me who also have stutters and I wanted to help them realise it's OK to stutter. So many people get really far in life with a stutter because they don't let it hold them back. πŸ’ͺ

Posted on by:

jackdomleo7 profile

Jack Domleo

@jackdomleo7

A front-end developer with a passion for UI/UX & accessibility.

Discussion

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Long article so I haven't finished it but I bookmarked it to continue later. Just want to go ahead and say thank you for posting! IT has brought me in to contact with so many different backgrounds and cultures, more than I ever realized. I'm constantly learning about habits of my own that are offensive to other cultures, or unconscious biases I've learned to work out. I appreciate your post as another learning opportunity. I will say that I had a developer a level above me for a while that had a stammer but it never bothered me to let him finish and he is someone I still look up to, now, a few years later.

 

Ahah sorry, it wasn't meant to be so long πŸ˜… Thank you! It was requested and recommended by a few people so I'm glad. πŸ™‚

 

It is beautifully formatted, I do love a bit of markdown magic.

 

Hi Jack,

that's a great post. Thanks a lot for putting it together.
I stutter as well and can 100% relate to your post. It was a lot worse when I was younger (especially when I went to school). I'm not 100% sure, but I think it got a lot less frequent after a gained a bit more confidence in the stuff I do.

The school was a real pain. There are people saying: "Oh, I wish I could go back to school. It was just a fun and carefree time". I NEVER understood that. School wasn't fun for me. But you already made a good point in your article, so I will stop complaining. πŸ˜‰

I always knew when I was going to stutter on a specific word. You can feel it right before it happens. ("Physiotherapist", which is the job of my sister, was always the worst). And every time I felt that I was going to stutter on a word, I instantly started searching for a replacement in my head. Synonyms for the win! πŸ˜† In some cases, a synonym is easy to find and use. But it's difficult in others. Up until today some of my friends think I really like drinking Fanta. But the reality is: I like Coca Cola much better. But "Coke" or "Cola" was hard to say for me. Fanta worked 99% of the time without stuttering. So I ordered Fanta. Luckily I can order a coke without a stutter today. And even if I feel it won't be as easy, I still go for the "c-c-c-c-coke". Because... you know... I just want the coke, not a Fanta.

Once again: Thanks for your great post. It feels good to have people talking (or writing) about it.

 

Hi Lars! Thanks for your comment! I loved it and can also relate. Finding synonyms can be hard πŸ˜… that's also why I love the Fermat Hackenbacker video clip with his father, Brains - they find so many synonyms as a method for saying what they need to. I often find myself using a posher word just to say what I need to, not sure if you do. But similar to your Fanta situation, at McDonald's I usually order chips/fries because I can never say "burger", but I'm so thankful now for their self-serve screens. 😊

 

Yes. +1 for the self-serve screens. :-D

 

Finally I finished it.

I'd sure recommend this to some of my friends who stammer (that's what we call it over here)

My journey as a coder has brought me to meet different kinds of people.

What a lot of people complain about me, definitely should be my introverted self.

CheersπŸ₯‚

 

Nice article, thanks a lot for bringing this up! I enjoyed reading it and it'll prepare me wonderfully for any future opportunities to handle this nice and friendly, although I probably would've jumped on the finish-words-train (which I'll definitely keep in mind to don't do, thanks for that!). Also you might re-check both mentions of "Hackenburger" - or however it's spelled right - as you've written it differently both times in the post. This (only) one jumped directly to my eyes when reading through, everything else is super well written and informative! :)

 

Thank you. Yeah, most people jump to completing sentences, which actually I don't mind, but is more polite I guess to wait. Ah, thank you, will resolve that πŸ˜‰

 

Thank you for this article, Jack. I'm visually impaired so know what it's like to be bullied for something you can't help. Eye contact is difficult for me to read or maintain, so I know how painful certain social situations can be, and how much easier it is to find shortcuts (like self-service machines at MacDonald's). I hate having to order things from cafes because I can never see the boards or the little labels they have on their sandwiches. πŸ™‚

I really appreciated getting a little peek into the mind of a stammerer, at least from your perspective as I'm sure it may differ from others. I tend to have quite strong empathetic triggers/responses to certain situations, and for whatever reason stammering is one of them (for those with a speech impediment I mean, rather than those of us who just stutter as part of everyday speech). So for me I'm less trying to finish someone's sentence, and more just wanting them to not feel as if they're suffering. I hope that makes sense and doesn't feel nearly as condescending as it might sound. It feels to me as if the speaker is having a fight with their own brain or mouth, and that struggle feels unfair to bear.

I've never had the courage to ask a stammerer about the experience (as it's not their job to make me feel better about their stammer!), so I really applaud both your openness in this article and also face-to-face. I hope you do have the opportunity to speak publicly. and I feel I can relate to not wanting to give into the fear (I can't really use any kind of notes on-stage when I speak, so I have to use visual prompts in my slides that I can glance at, to remind me what to focus on). I think, finding your own little hacks, not to disguise what you have, but to work with it can be really effective.

Hope this wasn't too long or excruciating. Really appreciated your take, thanks again.

 

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to read my article and write that comment, I really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your experiences in terms of sight, it's admirable. I agree we find our own little awesome hacks to get us through whatever task is at hand. Thank you 😊πŸ’ͺ