Emily Blunt opens up about childhood stutter: ‘Like an imposter that lives in your body’

Emily Blunt opened up about her childhood stutter at the 2022 Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Gala earlier this week. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Emily Blunt opened up about her childhood stutter at the 2022 Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Gala earlier this week. (Getty Images)

Emily Blunt has opened up about living with a childhood stutter, describing how acting played a role in helping her overcome the speech impediment.

Speaking at the American Institute for Stuttering's 2022 Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Gala earlier this week, the Jungle Cruise actor described how "important" it was for her to keep "speaking openly about" having a stutter, "a disability people don't know much about."

During the gala, which Blunt hosted, she discussed how becoming an actor helped her address her stutter, a speech disorder she's had since she was a child.

Even though her stutter wasn't necessarily "cured" she believes acting "was a sort of invitation into speaking fluently for one of the first times."

"I wouldn't say that's why I've ventured into acting, but it was just a bit shocking the first time I was able to speak, you know, doing a silly voice or an accent pretending to be someone else," she told People.

"People don't talk about [it] enough if it hasn't got enough exposure, and millions of people around the world struggle with it," she continued.

"And I think it's a very moving force. If you can't express yourself, you can't be yourself. And there's something very poignant in freeing people of the grip of a speech impediment, because it's like a sort of imposter that lives in your body."

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Blunt wants to continue to raise awareness about stutters and stammers. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Emily Blunt wants to continue to raise awareness about stutters and stammers. (Getty Images)

The Devil Wears Prada star previously revealed that her grandfather, uncle and cousin all had a stutter, and she herself noticed it in herself when she was around six or seven years old.

"It's biological and it's often hereditary and it's not your fault," Blunt told People.

"And I think it's very often a disability that people bully and make fun of. So I think, to raise awareness about what it's really about, and that there's this soft place for you to land in this amazing organisation. It's a big deal for me to be here."

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At the same event Blunt told Hello! she hopes to continue the conversation surrounding stutters and other speech disorders.

"I see it as a really important part of my world to keep talking about and keep illuminating this disability, because I don't think there's enough representation of it and there's millions of people around the world who struggle and suffer from it," she said.

"Any time I talk about, I just want it to be a soft place for people to land to know that you're not alone, and I get it. I really understand."

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What is a stutter?

According to the NHS stammering, also sometimes referred to as stuttering, is a relatively common speech problem in childhood, which can persist into adulthood.

A person with a stammer will often repeat sounds or syllables – for example, saying "mu-mu-mu-mummy", make sounds longer – for example, "mmmmmmummy" or experience words getting stuck or not coming out at all.

Stammering varies in severity from person to person, and from situation to situation. Someone might have periods of stammering followed by times when they speak relatively fluently.

The NHS says there are two main types of stammering:

  • Developmental stammering, the most common type of stammering that happens in early childhood.

  • Acquired or late-onset stammering, which is relatively rare and happens in older children and adults as a result of a head injury, stroke or progressive neurological condition.

Blunt says several family members have also lived with stutters, pictured in November 2021. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Emily Blunt says several family members have also lived with stutters, pictured in November 2021. (Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

What causes a stammer?

Gaby Harris, speech and language therapist says there is no single cause for stammering.

"It is really a symptom of emotional dysregulation, which can occur because of many different reasons, including genetics, language difficulties, personality and environment," she explains.

The NHS says stammering is more common in boys than girls, though it is unclear why this is.

Genes are also thought to have a role.

"Around two in three people who stammer have a family history of stammering, which suggests the genes a child inherits from their parents might make them more likely to develop a stammer," the NHS site explains.

Does a child grow out of it?

Stuttering can be developmental, a part of the child’s natural stages of language development, which the child can grow out of, however stutters can also persist into adulthood.

"Research has shown that about 5% of children start to stammer and 1% continue to stammer into adult hood. That means that four out of five children will overcome the difficulty," Harris adds.

How to spot if your child has a stammer

Harris says instinctively a parent will know if their child is struggling to get their words out.

"Stuttering happens when the airflow is disrupted when speaking causing difficulty to say the word or finish a sentence," she explains. "Common signs are repetition of the first sound, syllable or word in the sentence."

However, Harris points out it is important to be aware that your child may be hiding their stammer by avoiding situations completely by not speaking or not participating in certain talking situations.

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What is the treatment for a stammer?

If, as a parent, you are feeling worried about your child’s talking, Harris advises seeing a speech and language therapist as soon as possible, to find out what are the possible reasons for your child’s stammer.

"He or she can give you simple, practical advice to support you and your child with their talking as well as reassurance that will in itself be helpful by reducing the pressures," she explains.

Treatments will vary depending on each child and the possible contributing factors.

"For younger children, therapists often work with the child through their parents, looking at how to support a child within everyday interactions and play, perhaps looking at slowing down the pace of interactions," Harris continues.

"For older children, therapy may focus more on giving the child strategies to help deal with the stammer to give them confidence to tackle certain speaking situations."

Harris says speech therapy will also look at helping the child to deal with their feelings around the stammer, so they are not as worried about it and focus more on what they want to say rather than how they will say it.

Stamma (The British Stammering Association) has more information and support for people who stammer and parents of stammering children.