Emily Blunt: Practically Fluent in Every Way?

I’m sure a lot of people, me included, have seen ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ recently and agree that Emily Blunt gives an incredible performance as the magical Nanny.  Emily has catapulted into one of the globe’s most loved actors after her breakthrough performance in Devil Wears Prada in 2006.  

However, what a lot of people may not realise is that Emily has had a stammer since she was a child.  In fact she is a very vocal advocate for those who stammer and is the patron of the American Institute for Stuttering (AIS).  Click below to watch a clip of Emily talking about her experiences of stammering.

News flash! Emily is not the only famous person to have a stammer:  Marilyn Monroe, Julia Roberts, Tiger Woods, James Earl Jones (Darth Vader himself!) and Ed Sheeran all have experienced a stammer. Ed Sheeran has also spoken up about his stammer and his difficulties with bullying when he was younger.  

But back to Emily. Emily has said that the main aim of being a patron for the AIS is that she wants to raise awareness of stammering.  So, let’s help her out!

What is a stammer?

Another word for a ‘stutter’ – this is the American term but it means the same thing.  We usually refer to this as ‘stammering’ in the UK, but It is also known as dysfluency.

Did you know? Around 5% of Children under five have a stammer and it affects around 1% of the adult population! That’s about 600,000 people in the UK who have some kind of dysfluency! For children up to the age of four, you may hear of the term ‘normal non-fluency.’  Some children at this age experience a short period of non-fluency as they are going through language growth, this is normally short-lived and children tend not to be aware of this.  

Types of stammering can vary from one person to the next.  The main types of stammering are: 
  1. Sound Repetitions – repeating a sound in a word – ‘b / b / b / ball’
  2. Word or phrase repetitions – repeating a whole word or phrase – ‘Can I / Can I / Can I go to play?’
  3. Prolongations – making the sound in a word longer – ‘the mmmmoon is bright tonight’
  4. Blocks – when a sound gets blocked for a while and so no sound comes out – ‘it’s g—–going to snow tonight.’ This can be accompanied by tension around the jaw and neck.
Ed Sheeran and Emily Blunt attending the American Institute for Stuttering ‘Freeing Voices, Changing Lives’ 9th Annual Benefit Gala.

How can we, as listeners, help?

Emily has said that she finds it ‘annoying’ when a person finishes her sentences; this is true of most people that stammer.  I mean, imagine someone finishing off all your sentences for you whenever you spoke. Especially if the person actually misinterprets what you want to say! Help by: giving the person plenty of time to reply and pay attention to what the person is saying… not how are they are saying it!

Slow down your own rate of speech when talking to a child,  don’t ask them to slow down or take a breath. By slowing down our own pace, the child will follow suit automatically, they will also feel less rushed in the conversation.  It is also important to keep eye-contact and be reassuring to the person talking.

AND REMEMBER: Each person is different! If you are regularly in contact with a person who stammers, e.g. a friend or colleague, ask them for advice about how you can help. Most people find it reassuring to talk about their stammer and will be grateful you are taking the time to talk about it.

So, what help is available?

It seems like Emily had great people around her to help her feel supported with her stammer. Fab!  Her teacher sounded like he understood what would help her and spotted a talent in her from a young age. The stammer didn’t even matter.  

Emily has also mentioned that she had Speech Therapy as a child, so what might a Speech and Language Therapist do for someone with a stammer?

Children:  
  • Parent Child Interaction Therapy can be very helpful with young Children.  This works on ensuring the communication environment is the best it can be for the young child and encourages special time with the parents to talk and play for a few minutes a day.
  • Lidcombe Therapy is an evidence based therapy that is for children aged 4 – 7 and successful pilot studies have shown a benefit for Children older than this. (see http://www.lidcombeprogram.org/ for more details)
  • Techniques such as ‘soft contacts’ and the ‘slide’ can be taught to a child to help improve their fluency levels.
  • Discuss if the stammer holds them back from participating in anything and demystifying stammering with the child gives them confidence to talk.
Adults:

Adult therapy tends to fall into one of these categories. Therapists may use one or more of these within a therapy session or block.

  • Block modification – A widely used therapy technique where the aim is not for total fluency, but to help the client stammer more easily. Involves work on attitude change as well as communication behaviour.
  • Avoidance reduction therapy –  The person who stammers is taught to acknowledge that they stammer and approach speaking situations and words instead of avoiding them. It is important that Children and Adults who stammer do not avoid words or situations that they find difficult!
  • Fluency shaping techniques -Slowed speech / prolonged speech aim to replace stammered speech with fluent speech in the clinic setting, and the client is then helped to carry over the fluency techniques into outside situations.  This includes an approach called Camperdown Therapy. It also includes techniques such as ‘easy onsets’.
  • Psychological Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Personal Construct Therapy (PCT) to help a person overcome issues that may present themselves as a result of the stammer.

Please contact Mable Therapy if you want to discuss these therapy options.  We have trained specialist Speech and Language Therapists able to offer these therapies in schools or in homes for Adults and Children.  

Please see the British Stammering Association for more resources and information about Stammering:  www.stammering.org

Also if you’re in the USA or want to learn more about the amazing work Emily Blunt is doing please visit:  https://stutteringtreatment.org/

Lorraine Bamblett

Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

Lorraine is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist with over 15 years experience. She has special interests in the areas of dysfluency, auditory processing difficulties, speech sound disorder and developmental language disorder.

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