Covert Stuttering

Oli photoAbout the author: Oli Cheadie is a person who stutters and a newly qualified speech and language therapist based in London. Oli is involved with local stuttering support groups and runs a blog about mindfulness and stuttering. (

I have made a short video about covert/interiorised stuttering for a general audience who are likely to have a relatively limited understanding of stuttering. I know from my own experiences and talking with others who have covert stutters that this is a particularly poorly understood phenomenon. I think that covert stuttering can be very challenging to understand as it is largely invisible to others. It can be particularly challenging in the workplace. I made this video with a view to providing an accessible introduction to the subject and raising the profile of covert stuttering.

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Covert Stuttering — 29 Comments

  1. Hello Oli, interesting thoughts. I do not believe that anyone is either overt or covert, actually shades in between which themselves vary. But I would agree that individuals may favour one behaviour style. But for example I know people who are very overt in nature, yet at times are covert in their ways. They may openly stutter most of the time, yet at other times use more covert strategies. Also I think many overts many use covert strategies to appear less overt, Also how much to you think stuttering severity ties into covert/over behaviours?

    • Thanks for your comment Grant. Yes, I’d certainly agree that we PWS tend to occupy a space somewhere between overt and covert stuttering, maybe stuttering openly in situations we are comfortable in but avoiding some situations altogether because we of anxiety of stuttering.

      I’d still say that it’s a useful distinction. It’s important that the general public recognise that, just because you’re not audibly stuttering, it doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling on the inside.

  2. Oli,
    Thank you for this introductory video on covert stuttering. You did a nice job incorporating visuals (e.g., iceberg, burning shack) in the video to accurately portray the underlying emotions that may be felt by people who stutter. I liked how you made a point to discuss the fact that stuttering is not a result of panicking, rather stuttering has neurological bases.

    • Hi Cassidy – thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated. Yes, the misconception that PWS are more anxious than other people is a bugbear of mine!

  3. Hi Oli,

    Thank you for posting this excellent video. I am currently a SLP graduate clinician, interning in a rehabilitation clinic. While considering the concept of covert stuttering I thought of one of my clients, in particular, who presents with a very ‘mild’ stutter. Although I rarely notice his disfluencies, he reports that his stuttering makes him very anxious and self-conscious. I recognize now that he may be a covert stutterer.

    I really appreciate your discussion about the effects of covert stuttering on an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life. One question: What approaches do you use in addressing covert stuttering with your clients? Any specific resources you could suggest?

    Be well,


    • Hi Brittany, thanks for your feedback. I’m really glad that you felt it was helpful in your clinical work.

      I don’t currently work with PWS (although I hope to) but I have sat in an excellent covert stuttering therapy group at City Lit (in London). Carolyn Cheasman and Rachel Everard have written an excellent chapter on this in “Stammering Therapy from the Inside: New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults”. From memory, their groups focussed on areas like avoidance reduction, voluntary stuttering and block-modification therapy.


  4. Hi Oli,

    I can imagine it must be very exhausting to change your words, not say what you want, avoid communicating and deal with the emotional turmoil or being a covert stutterer. Your video did a great job helping me visualize your inner world- especially the iceberg picture.

    What is the path to recovery for the covert stutterer? If you just say what you want and stutter openly that may be a first step. I can imagine this would be painful and hard to do at first- but once you are able to openly stutter then you may be able to use some techniques to reduce the severity of your stutter and make your disfluencies sound more like normal disfluencies all people have while speaking. At least in this way you will be free from the prison of constantly manipulating your speech and you can be yourself. Our speech is so wrapped up in our identities. If a covert stutterer becomes overt this change may be so new and different he or she may not feel like themselves at first. I think eventually a more overt stutter coupled with expressing your ideas and finding your true self will be liberating.

    Thank you for bringing this important type of stuttering to light. I hope to help covert stutterers find the courage to seek help and be themselves.

    • Hi Jill, thanks for your comment.

      Yes, stuttering openly can be very challenging for people who experience covert stuttering at first. When you’ve spent most of your life developing ways of speaking and of behaving to avoid stuttering it can seem daunting and absurd for your therapist to then turn around and say “I want you to stutter openly and tell your friends and family that you are a person who stutters”.

  5. Hi Oli – I found you video very informative, I knew very little about covert studying prior to watching it. I can imagine that being a covert stutter is very exhausting, because of this, do covert stutters typically reach out for help to a speech therapist or other health profession? I am curious to see your response to the above questions on what the path to recovery is for a covert stutterer. Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Kristin,

      Anecdotally, I would say that many people with covert stutters are those who slip through the net and can go through much of their lives without speech therapy – because they are so good at hiding the issue. Many people with covert stutters do not even realise that they are experiencing stuttering and so do not realise that help is available.

      Again I would recommend the chapter on covert stuttering in “Stammering Therapy from the Inside: New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults” for an idea of the route that some people take in becoming more open about their stuttering.

  6. Hi Oli,
    I really enjoyed your video. I was wondering how you would approach someone who is a covert stutter so that they will begin to open up about their covert stuttering? Is there good place to start or strategies that could be of use when working with covert stutters?

    • I’m glad your enjoyed the video. Work with people who have covert stutters often focuses on avoidance reduction, voluntary stuttering and block modification therapy.

  7. Hi Oli,
    Thank you for sharing this video. I am a SLP graduate student and prior to watching your video, I did not realize how exhausting and challenging it could be for covert stutters to constantly work to hide their stutter from others. In the video, you mentioned that the strain of hiding a stutter could become just as challenging, if not worse than stuttering openly. For this reason, I was wondering how much speech therapy for covert stutterers would focus on counseling and acceptance of their stutter and what approaches or strategies you have found to work best when working with these individuals?

    • Hi albanesemb,

      Yes, therapy for people with covert stutters tends to focus more on counselling / CBT approaches to reduce avoidance behaviours and on voluntary stuttering.

      Some therapists then move on to block-modification therapy (i.e. Van Riper approach) but some clients can feel that this is a move backwards and just another way of avoiding stuttering.

  8. Dear Oli,

    I had never heard of the term covert stuttering before your video. It would be so easy for someone to not know that they are with a PWS if that person is covert stuttering. I always thought of this concept as just limiting your word choice, but I now see that I was very wrong. Your example of ordering soup when you really wanted pizza really opened up my eyes. I cannot even imagine how frustrating and fatiguing that would be. Your visual of the burning house also really stood out to me. From the outside it might seem like the person has control of the stutter, even though inside it is really taking a toll on them. Is there anything the listener can do to help the PWS feel comfortable so he or she does not feel the need to covert stutter?

    – Courtney Lennon

    • Hi Courtney,

      Personally, I feel that if a person is not ready to admit that they have a covert stutter there is very little you as a listener can do to prompt them to open up (and, of course, you are unlikely to even know that they are covert stuttering unless they have made you aware of it).

      It’s probably necessary for people with a covert stutter to reach a point where they feel they need to do something about it as it is just too much of a strain. Then they can seek therapy and begin to engage in things like avoidance-reduction strategies and voluntary stuttering.


  9. Hi Oli,
    Thank you for sharing this information. It is really interesting and disheartening to see the lengths at which PWS go to avoid disfluencies. Am I correct in thinking that no stutterer begins as a covert stutterer? It seems as though you would not be able to reliably predict and avoid your stutter without years of doing so overtly. I can understand how covert stuttering could be depressing because it never allows the PWS to truly express what they want to say, but you also mentioned it can be exhausting to constantly change words. Is there ever a point, after years of covert stuttering perhaps, that it is o longer exhausting because it becomes almost second-nature?

    I ask because this topic reminds me of a client I observed who had a severe articulation problem with /r/. The rest of her speech was normal, but she had grown so accustom to avoiding /r/ that it was almost second nature to omit /r/ words from her vocabulary entirely. I wonder if covert stutterers ever get to this point as well.

    Thanks again for the informative video!

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Yes I think you’re right – no one begins as a covert stutterer. However, it’s not uncommon for people’s families to not even realise they have this condition so kids must be pretty good at learning to hide it fast.

      I’m not sure about word-switching becoming almost second-nature. That’s an interesting example. Personally, I can’t imagine it would ever feel easy and, of course, it often means you don’t quite say what you wanted to.

  10. Hi Oli,

    Thank you for sharing this informative video about covert stuttering. As a Speech-Language Pathologist in the making, I enjoyed learning more about covert stuttering, in particular the serious emotional component of this kind of stuttering that the individual who stutters faces and the invisible nature of the stuttering. Are there any techniques that have helped you if/when you had therapy?

    All the best!

    Kind regards,


    • Hi Fazia,

      Thanks for your feedback, much appreciated. As far as therapy approaches for covert stuttering, I would recommend the chapter on covert stuttering in “Stammering Therapy from the Inside: New Perspectives on Working with Young People and Adults”.


  11. Hello, as a current graduate student who is currently taking a fluency course it was great to have such a great video to help me gain a better understanding about covert/interiorized stuttering. This video is a great example of how current technology can be used to help educate the public about covert stuttering. You did a great job at discussing the effects of covert stuttering on an individual’s emotional welfare and quality of life. I have had friends and family ask me about covert stuttering and now I have a great resource to share with them. Well done.

    • Hi Peter,

      Thank you – that’s exactly why I made it. I was attending a local support group and we were talking about how difficult it was to explain covert stuttering to others (e.g. to family members or at a job interview). I think that many people who do no stutter have difficulty understanding overt stuttering so covert stuttering can be mystifying.


  12. Hi Oli,

    Thank you for sharing information on covert stuttering. I am a first year graduate student, and I have never heard of covert stuttering. In my fluency course, we are learning about the iceberg analogy. You explained it very well on how it affects a person internally and undermine’s a person’s confidence. How frustrating and tiring it must be to have to pay attention to everything you say to avoid stuttering. It must be extremely difficult for a PWS to express their own identity. Most people take speaking for granted. Your video helped me understand covert stuttering and understand what it would be like to be a covert stutterer. (even though I will never truly understand). As a future SLP, I look forward to working with PWS, and I will acknowledge the iceberg analogy with them. Treating a fluency disorder is similar to the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot to uncover beneath the surface of the overall disorder. Do you have any tips in therapy to help the patient describe their emotions related to their own experiences?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Heidi,

      I’m glad you found the video helpful. From my own experience, I have found that once you build rapport with a patient who stutters, they will be forthcoming and articulate about their experiences of stuttering. Sorry if that’s a bit vague.


  13. Thanks for sharing.
    After hearing what you had to say about covert stuttering, it is no wonder that it gets exhausting, always having to be on your guard.

  14. Hi Oli,
    Thanks for providing insight. I am not a person who stutters, but your video sent home a message about the impact of the less obvious aspects of stuttering. Would you mind sharing a little information about how your covert characteristics and covert severity have changed at different ages in your life. At what age did you really start to understand the impact that the covert aspects were having on your life? Obviously the answers to these questions can’t be applied to all individuals who stutter. I’m still pretty green behind the ears with regards to stuttering treatment. At this point in my learning process, I really value the role that anecdotal evidence can have in combination with the research tells me.
    Thanks again!

  15. Hi Oli,
    I am a SLP graduate student and am currently enrolled in a fluency class. I was very interested in the video that you made about covert stuttering. I learned about covert and overt stuttering in my class. Before that point in time I did not understand how deeply stuttering effects the PWS. I only payed attention to the overt aspects. I am grateful that I know about the covert aspects now, as I realize that a complete plan of care involves both aspects of stuttering. Therapy should address overt aspects and covert aspects.

  16. Oli, thank you for sharing this video and explaining covert stuttering so well. I agree that it is important for others to be aware of the hidden nature of stuttering and how it can impact a person who stutters, and how it truly shows the shame or fear that a stutter can cause in a person.

  17. Interesting introduction to an otherwise unfamiliar form of stuttering. One thing I hadn’t thought about was all of the different ways someone may have to modify their day just to avoid a stuttering event. Choosing to order a food you don’t want, or perhaps answering a question differently than you prefer, or not explaining something to someone accurately so as not to stutter must not only be frustrating but exhausting as well.