Covert and Overt Stuttering

I’m trying to understand this covert and overt thing a little better. Remember that I haven’t talked to anybody about my stuttering (until now, basically) so the terminology and labeling is … well, interesting.

Tony mentioned it on his blog the other day:

I use fluency tricks to hide my stuttering because I want to sound like people who are fluent. Does this mean that I am ashamed of stuttering? Perhaps. That would be a matter between me and my therapist, if I had one. 🙂 Does this mean that I don’t accept my stutter? Not at all. I accept is as much as a person must accept that he has only one leg or one eye. I AM A STUTTERER. See? There, I wrote it. I am not delusional. 😛 I am okay with reality. However, this does not mean that I have to be okay with stuttering. There is a difference, in my opinion.

I think the covert-overt thing is kind of funny at times. Because, what, you’re basically covert until you stutter … then the cat’s out of the bag, right? I mean, sure, the Starbucks barista doesn’t know I stutter (and of course I didn’t get what I wanted because I was afraid of stuttering when I ordered it) but after meeting a new person at work and talking to them off and on for a week, I’m probably going to stutter. Then what? Maybe they’ll just think that I was nervous or couldn’t find the right word and stumbled over it? So they don’t think that I completely stutter? I suppose that’s being covert, sure. Or maybe they’ll realize it and not think anything of it?

So for some people I’m covert, and others I’m overt?

Here’s the definition from the Stuttering Foundation at the Guidelines (An excerpt of Chapter 23 from the book Advice to Those Who Stutter)

There appear to be two main types of stutterers: (1) the covert stutterer who attempts to avoid contacts with feared words and situations that might identify him as a possible stutterer to his listeners and (2) the overt stutterer who struggles laboriously through word after word as he communicates. Which one are you?


So I guess in my mind, I’m a covert stutterer, and in reality, I’m overt. I think this is part of the iceberg — ok, sure, I stutter, but I don’t want the listener to identify me as someone who stutters. As in, when the conversation is done, and they talk to their friends, they don’t say something like, “oh, you know, Rehan, the guy upstairs who stutters?”

I think lately (past 5 years or so) I’ve been more overt because well, I have things at work I just have to say. And I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to mind the stutter on a few words here and there.

Here’s another older article that touches on it. And this might explain why I didn’t do speech therapy all the way through school.

For MacIntyre, as long as she could replace words, or avoid situations where she knew she would block, she said, she could hide her problem from everyone, including her parents. “I was a walking thesaurus,” she said. When MacIntyre was in grade school, she was already showing signs of stuttering. But when a specialist told her mother to ignore the symptoms, MacIntyre began consciously masking her stutter. Her parents assumed she had simply grown out of it.

I’m curious how other people label themselves and their subsequent behavior. I’m guessing someone who’s overt doesn’t preface every conversation with “look, I stutter, so bear with me.” Or do they?


  1. Good stuff! I was covert for years – meaning I avoided speaking situations, used word substitutions, or chose silence. It was a prison, because I stifled my real personality, which is a bit loud, social and talkative. But I also realize that, agreeing with you, that I thought I was covert in my head, just because I never talked about stuttering. But when I talked, I stuttered. I suffered from a large dose of denial.

    I have essentially gone from covert to overt – I stutter openly most of the time, minus shame, again, most of the time. It still creeps in from time to time. I talk about covert stuttering quite a bit over on my blog.

    Keep talking – never choose silence.

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