The word 'covert' means hidden or disguised, and so a covert stammer is one that is not obvious to the casual listener. Generally this is because the person with the stammer goes to great lengths to conceal it, and to keep their speech sounding as 'normal' as possible. By the way on the Starfish Project we believe that the definition of ‘normal’ is a cycle on a washing machine.
Stammering (Stuttering) can take many forms and can be as diverse as the individuals are themselves. One person who stammers (PWS) may block on every word in conversation or may just occasionally prolong sounds.
Some PWS are able to read an entire passage fluently, while others may struggle to read even the first word.
Then there are those PWS who never appear to stammer, yet their family will be able to tell you that they can barely carry on a simple conversation at home without getting "stuck." Covert are often are mislabelled and in many cases go without seeking therapy.
Covert stammering is also referred to as interiorised stammering, in many ways a better description - it is definitely happening, but the outward signs are very limited.
One classic description is that covert stammering is like a swan gliding serenely across the water - effortless grace to the outside world, but frantically paddling underneath. To the casual observer, it may appear that there's nothing wrong with the speech of the covert stammerer, but the truth is rather different.
Incorrectly, covert stammerers tend to be regarded by some people as less severe, because they can be more or less successfully hidden in a way that a more severe stammer cannot. They use circumlocution techniques or omit words when speaking and avoid reading in front of a group.
Covert stammerers often pretend to forget what they were saying or pause frequently to "ride out" the stammer. They may avoid eye contact, look down or away from the person they are speaking to and may not ask many questions or elaborate on answers. They may even avoid or withdraw from social interaction with peers. Casual observers of covert stammerers have been known think the stammerer is creating the disorder or exaggerating its severity. They may believe it is the individual's nature to be quiet and reserved or 'shy'.
Covert stammerers often feel that stammering is their biggest hidden secret and that nobody understands the impact it is having on their life.
The late Joseph Sheehan described stammering as being "like an iceberg. The part above the surface, what people see and hear, is really the smaller part. By far the larger is the part underneath the shame, the fear, the guilt, all those other feelings that we have when we try to speak a simple sentence and can't."
For many covert / interiorised stammerers people don’t see anything above the water, it’s all under the water.
The simple answer is yes – however the biggest task is accepting yourself as a stammerer. For many covert stammerers this may seem like a step back before moving forwards, but an essential step it is.
Many covert stammers have changed their lives since coming on a Starfish Project course and find that using the Starfish technique has given them the freedom to say what they want to say, when they what to say it and to whoever they want to say it to.
Rather than try to explain how the Starfish Project has helped other covert stammerers perhaps it is better to let a few of them do the talking. The following pages are from some of the covert stammerers who have gained control from Starfish.