Anything Left-Handed > Left handed life > Stuttering and changed lefthanders

Stuttering and changed lefthanders

After we wrote an article recently on the general effects that can result from forcing a natural left-hander to write right-handed, we were contacted by lots of Members about stuttering in particular and it is clearly something that causes people huge problems throughout their lives and we would like to highlight it further.

You can see from the messages we have included below that, at least for those that contacted us:

  1. Their stuttering was directly connected to being forced to change writing hands at a young age
  2. It had a dramatic negative effect on them, often lasting their whole lives
  3. In some case at least, once they changed back to writing left-handed their stuttering stopped

Now this is only anecdotal evidence but it is pretty clear!

There has been research over the years that has found the percentage of stutterers who are left handed is much higher than the general population but that was not specifically linked to forced hand change (and would depend whether the people who had been changed were still classed as “left-handers” in the research!).

There was also one piece of research as far back as 1940 that actually indicated that lefthanders were LESS likely to be stutterers (but again definitions can cause a problem as the lefthanders who were   forced to change and then stuttered may well have been counted as right-handers!).

We have not been able to find any solid research about this and on the Stamma (British Stammering Association website) it is not mentioned apart from very briefly in a couple of contributed articles, again with no actual research background.   We found an interesting article on the subject here where the author noted:

  • About 1% of the human population stutters, more males than females.
  • Many studies have both empirically and observationally demonstrated a link between left-handedness and stuttering (the one referenced is “Bryngelson, B., & Clark, T. (1933). Left-handedness and stuttering Journal of Heredity, 24, 387-390”)
  • And that as the incidence of left-handers being forced to change in recent years has been reducing, we would expect to see a reduction in the total percentage of stutters, but that does not seem to have happened.

We have since come across a short research review showing how the theory connecting forced hand change and stuttering has become more and less accepted over the years:
Retraining left-handers and the aetiology of stuttering: the rise and fall of an intriguing theory

It is clear that there are many causes of stuttering and it does seem to be at least partly genetic and has been shown to run in families.   Given the high number of people it affects, the proportion of them who have changed handedness as a definite cause is going to be very small, but from what people tell us, it can be a very traumatic and lifelong problem that, in these cases, could have been avoided by just leaving the left-hander to develop naturally!

We would be very interested to hear more of your personal experiences and also find out if there has been any more research conducted into this that we have not been able to find. Please add any thoughts as comments at the bottom of this article.

Related material

Messages we have received specifically about stuttering

  • In the first grade, our teacher wanted us (two leftys) to switch to the right hand, I refused and would not do it, My friend agreed and in a very short time started to stutter, 2 years later, a visiting education PHD from the US, sat in our class, my former lefty friend was asked a question by the guest and his stuttering got worse because of his nervousness, The visitor inquired if he always stuttered and was told that it happened in the first grade, he further asked if the kid used to be left handed and the teacher proudly said that she had cured” his left handed problem.
    Our guest then told her to make sure to make the boy write with his LEFT HAND
    His stuttering was gone in a few weeks.
  • My teacher wanted me to write right handed. She taped my paper to the desk and made me write with my right hand. I began to stutter and my father was on me all the time to stop. I was grounded and humiliated by my father. I finally told him what the teacher was doing with my paper to get me to write right-handed.
    My father went to the school and told the teacher to leave me alone and let me write with the hand I wanted to write with. My stuttering stopped.
  • I was born left handed along with my 2 brothers and my sister. They are all still left handed and I was switched in school unlike the others.  I also had to take speech class in school for stuttering.  What are other affects of switching hands?   Molly S
  • I think there is a link between switching from left to right hand, and stuttering, but I think that it takes a “trigger” to set off the stuttering. I was naturally left handed, but had it beaten out of me in school (age 4-5 on). All was fairly normal until, age 12, I had 4 teeth extracted under a general anesthetic. The very minute they woke me from the operation I could not talk, and suffered from stuttering for the subsequent 20 years (like many stutterers I now have it under control). I think forcibly switching from left to right hand sets the scene for stuttering – a traumatic event can then set it off.
    Just my opinion, but I have had 30+ years to try to analyze the sequence of events.
  • At the earliest signs of being left-handed my mother trained me to be right-handed. I think this may have hindered my verbal and social abilities, as I’ve always been extremely shy and unable to express anger properly – I used to stutter as a child when I was angry.   I’m still not good at expressing myself verbally, thoughts are easier to communicate on paper for me, and my social skills are still lagging behind others.   I excelled in school, math and science, and sports; ventures that require a lot of competition but not communication. I began college with a football scholarship and majored in physics but quit school after two years, probably due to a lack of social skills that caused me to abuse alcohol and other drugs.   I finally cleaned my life up and at age 30 earned my college degree in philosophy with a heavy emphasis on psychology, and then attempted law school, but I still don’t have the social skills necessary for the profession, so I’m working in the telecommunications construction industry, climbing towers, installing lines and antennas for cell phone carriers.   I believe having been switched from my natural left-handedness to being right-handed has had negative side effects, and I highly discourage the practice.
    Joel R
  • As the class clown, I was devilish, but those nuns had it in for me and were determined to make me ‘right’… no matter the cost. In this case, of course, it was the horrendous stuttering problem that emerged. No one could figure that one out. Not the expensive therapist, not even me. I just remember beginning to stutter. Now… nothing is worse than a stuttering child, especially if they are Math-oriented and can quickly produce the right answers.So I was greeted with a chorus of laughter every time I stammered or blocked. So finally, I decided to ‘make ‘em laugh’ ….at least I’d be in on the joke, and I developed my weird interpretations and free-flowing, goofy impressions of cartoon characters, which, by the way, most nuns and later teachers were greatly entertained. I didn’t stutter when I mimicked Goofy” or Mickey” or, my favorite, Bullwinkle.” Nevertheless, when I began to give into this burbling to the top of this latent lefthandedness the stuttering began to quieten down. Here I am at sixty and I finally have conquered stuttering and am able to do EVERYTHING left-handed… if I want.
    Ted L
  • I write right-handed now but can recall my mother snatching pencils out of my left hand and saying, “No! We write with our RIGHT–see? That rhymes. Use your right hand!”   I remember it feeling weird, but I did as I was told. I’ve suffered anxiety and bouts of clinical depression my whole life and until reading your articles about it never thought it could all go back to being left-converted. Wow. As a child I did not stutter, but as an adult I find speaking very difficult. I can write well and easily express what I want to say in writing….but I search for words when speaking and get all tongue-tied. I’m very introverted and soooo socially awkward. I can see a connection, for myself, between the studied effects and my own conversion to writing right-handed. Definitely.
  • I am now in my 70’s but well remember being treated with contempt at school because I was left handed. I was forced to write with my right hand and finished up with a stutter.
    David R
  • When I was in infant school and learning to write I was made to write right handedly. I developed a stutter and became distressed by this. When my mother discovered what was happening, she went to the school to complain and insist that I should be allowed to write with my left hand. The school complied with this and my stutter vanished.
    Polly O
  • I had never thought about my ‘affliction’ because I was one of the lucky ones who had been changed via a harness, when in the first grades to the acceptable right-handed scholar… this in a religious-oriented school, btw.”
    So……..I then developed a massive stutter that, for all intents and purposes, changed my life forever… specifically my interactions with other students and friends who now viewed me as somewhat defective.
    Of course that was the simple version: The real tragedy related to my entire communicative life — It was very disturbing for me to speak with those necessary in my profession in order to pitch ideas BECAUSE of the stuttering caused by the mechanical change to righthandedness. For almost twenty-five years, I stuttered heavily, so heavily people would turn their heads and look in other directions when I spoke or attempted to speak. More than one job was lost because I just could not effectively communicate the ideas so streaming through my head in a coherent fashion, one understandable to others.
    I was so embarassed by this as a young boy when I attempted to speak to a girl. The first girl I fell in love with who remains the ove of my life (her name was Gail”), was listening to a joke her mother had made when she answered my call and when I was trying to say ‘Hello’ to her, stammering and hung-up on the H,” a difficult letter to enunciate, I thought she was laughing at my stuttering, and although she apologized profusely as I continued to attempt speaking, I relived that moment for eons.
    All of this caused by someone determining that I should be a right hander in order to be Right” for society.
    After I began noticing that my left hand could do some pretty amazing things when I was thirty-nine, I tried to use it and found that my stuttering diminished.
    I now speak well, no stuttering.
    But my life was changed forever by this force-change to an acceptable right handed personage.
  • I cant begin to tell you the problems I’ve had being a leftie. Teachers at school persisted in trying to make me write right and caused me to stammer which I still do now.
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52 comments on “Stuttering and changed lefthanders
  1. Susan Ross says:

    I was forced to write with my right hand when I started school in 1952. I also started to stutte, I was so upset as my writing was bad and was getting told off for that too. When my Father found out he told the school to leave me to write left handed. The stutter did ease off. But even at 73 I still stutter when overtired, ill or stressed.

  2. Terri Neumann says:

    I have recently come to terms with this I was left hand dominate, actually I had not decided which was stronger. my kindergarten teacher said to my mom in some cases I used my left hand more than my right. she did not really didn’t think anything about it. So the teacher took it upon herself to decide that I was going to be right handed. my mom thought nothing about it but did express that she thought that I should have been left handed but didn’t pursue it. I am 46 right now and I feel that the things that have been said fit me down to the letter. it is beyond a relief that I am not as stupid as all the teacher all the way through k-12 told me I was.

  3. jack ballschmider says:

    I was forced by the nun’s with a ruler, yardstick, or pointer to write with my non dominant hand. My father made me do what the nun’s wanted, my sisters told me it didn’t matter and/or that i was ambidextrous so it didn’t matter. I started writing / drawing with my left hand about 7 years ago,( 50 years after being forced) sisters are still saying the same thing. I’ve never done enough right handed to think i was ambidextrous. I am an architect, and have been writing / drawing with the non dominant hand my whole adult life. i have been trying desperately to go back to lefty, because i think i am more creative, but the whole writing thing brings back a lot of unconscious fear. i have included some drawings in photos, not that they are anything great but i really didn’t draw in 3-d or sketch much at all when right handed.
    could use some support from friends/ family. They say to go back is yet another form of brainwashing.

  4. FP says:

    I fell out of a tree at age 6 and broke my right wrist. I switched to writing with my left hand and never went back, had a huge stuttering problem until mid 20s, but can still not tell my right from left!

  5. Keith Spurgin says:

    Hello, thank you for this. My stuttering and left-handedness story goes like this:
    I was adopted at the age of 18 months, used my left hand as the dominant including reversing knives and forks. I was made to write right-handed and the results were very scrawly. I also stuttered and was very clumsy and (Dad said) ‘ham-fisted’.
    Playing games I could kick, throw and catch with both sides, better on the left, and threw darts and played snooker equally well (actually badly) with both sides. But my co-ordination was very poor and I have no dancing ability.
    I believe that years of reading aloud helped with stuttering and it’s now rare. When delivering lines I sometimes have difficulty but I’m a fluent impromptu speaker.
    After contacting my birth family and spending much time with them I have had the extraordinary experience of becoming a very accurate thrower and catcher. In addition my handwriting is neat and stylish and I can write well with my left hand provided it is mirror-writing.
    Did this happen because of my life history or did I learn to overcome genetic conditions – nature or nurture?
    I still can’t dance.
    Thank you for the opportunity to contribution and keep up the good work.

  6. sidali says:

    if you think you’re a converted lefty try using your left hand again … it feels great … it’s like your mind is clearer and there is no need to stutter o.O

  7. Dr Billy Levin says:

    If being a leftie, is right brain dominance (doing side) and left brain (language side) immaturity there is a natural tendency to have some form of language dysfunction often manifesting an a stutter.The stutter is worse under tension.

  8. Sara says:

    Well I had stutter as a kid.Now I’m almost 16 years old.My stutter has disappeared one year ago.I started to speak fluently.But it came again. But not like ‘stutter’. It’s more like a fear of ‘stuttering’.I have a fear of speaking in public,speaking in front of my class,even parents…I’m honest with my parents ,and they told me that it’d completely dissappear and that I’m only in that teenage phase when I’m sensitive about everything.And I was left handed too. Has someone the same problem as me?

  9. Nils says:

    When I started school, my teacher and my parents adviced me to write with the right hand, though I was naturally left-handed, and who was I to argue …
    Over the years I developed a kind of double-handedness, using the left hand for drawing and painting and the right for writing. Being a pianist, this double-handedness became quite useful and in most situations I can easily move from one hand to the other.
    However, I also began to stutter a bit, and it has become slightly worse lately, though I usually manage to hide or go around it. 

    • Dr Billy Levin says:

      An ADHD student broke his right arm in soccer and was advised to use his left hand until the plaster was removed. He used his left hand and his writing was better than ever. When the plaster was removed he refused to use his right hand. He was born left handed but forced by ignorant teachers to change to right hand.

  10. Vincent Tsebewu says:

    There is hope Julie,Search for Ruth Mead’s book titled ‘Speech is a river – my recovery from stuttering’ . Just google it up and download a pdf version of it.Good luck

  11. Vincent Tsebewu says:

    I was forced to change from left handedness to right in school when i started writing and i have stuttered all my life. I am now 38 years. I still stutter but i have hope of recovering from it by three months time. I am however not sure whether i need to switch back to left hand before i can recover from the stuttering.Vincent

    • khaled says:

      I have a similar case. Any advice to overcome stuttering?

      • Sabi says:

        Through you can puchase the book “Beyond stammering” or the new edition “Beyond stuttering”. Following the instructions of the method of the McGuire-programme you can overcome your stuttering. It isn’t easy do it alone, but if you decide to do it each day, you will achieve incredible results! Good luck!

  12. hufeiya says:

    Hi,I come from China.I never use my right hand for anthing except writting because I was forced to do this when six.Then I began to stutter,even I’m 21 now.I try anything I can to overcome stutter such as making speeches on bus or underground but haven’t succeed.Of cause it’s very hard to me to do this but I have to.
    Is it real that If I switch to my right hand for writting then the stutter could be cured ?

  13. Brodie says:

    I’ve always been left a child I didn’t use my right hand for anything..everything was my left hand.
    When I was 10 I seriously injured my left hand and was not able to use it for anything until I was 19!
    This made life very difficult.. I felt like a child again having to try and relearn how to do basic everyday tasks with my right hand.
    Having being able to use my left hand again the past few months I have found this website extremely helpful in tips and things to use (ie pens, scissors, kitchen utensils etc)
    It was impossible for me to learn how to write with my right hand..I tried for 9 years and i could never do hand would shake when I tried to write. When I was in school and I was forced to use my right matter how messy my writing was I developed a stutter which was a shocking surprise!
    Since being able to use my left hand again my stutter has gone and I can write easily.

    It’s weird using my right hand..left handed all the way!!!

  14. Eero Toivakka says:

    At the age of 6, one day before I started elementary school, I broke my right arm, hence I was forced to learn writing with my left hand. That made me stammer quite badly. I can’t remember much of the time (this happened in the late 60’s), but I remember that some 2 years later I was forced to change back to right handedness. Stammering disappeared, but my articulation never recovered completely to the level it was before my left handedness period. Consequences of this forced left handedness and stammering were life long fear of speaking among many people and terrible hand writing after I changed back to right hand. Also amusing detail is that I learned to play ice-hockey during my left handed period. I shoot from right side, which is common for left handed people in Europe (for some reason in USA it is the opposite, it more common for lefties to shoot from left hand side).

  15. laura sharpe says:

    I was ambidextrous, still am to a certain extent. At four to five years old, i was settling on the left hand. No one made me switch, instead, at every big dinner, it was mentioned I was left handed and I had to sit here or there. Left handed items were purchased etc.

    In kindergarden, the teachers aide would rush off to get me left handed scissor when the right handed ones would give me troubles….none the less the ambidexterity continued and I had a hard time learning left from right or consistently using a single hand. I learned to look around to see what hand everyone else was using and use that hand. I recall doing this in class for a few years.

    I developed a studder in 3rd grade when my right handedness was finally fixed in my practices. I lost the studder a few years later. No idea why.

    Many times when I learn new skills over the years, such as batting in baseball and shooting pool, I would naturally choose the left handed approach to it and switch to right handed later.

    I am out of touch doing most things left handed but I am much better at switching hands than most people.

  16. Walter O'Hearn says:

    Now 70 years old, I remember vividly that my first grade teacher, Miss Sullivan, (terrible teacher in many respects) attempted to make me use my right hand to write. That was when I began to stutter. Actually I have a speech hesitation, more than a stutter. When my father (normally a very laid back and quiet person) found out what she was trying to do, he went directly to the school and confronted her and made sure she was aware that if she continued to do what she was doing, he would have her job. Unfortunately the damage was done. My speech problem continued thru elementary school and then into parochial high school where the nuns felt that I should be called on more than anybody and that would help my “affliction”. It did not. As I got older, I was able to compensate in many areas and although it bothered my mentally and socially for a long time I eventually overcame the most issues and carried on with a successful career. I am pretty much over the problem although every once in a while it rears its ugly head for no apparent reason and I deal with it. I am truly left-handed as I do everything left handed except use scissors for obvious reasons.

  17. Donna de Caires-Glenn says:

    Like many before me I too had a teacher in infant school who thought it was her duty to make me right-handed.I still write with my left hand. Interestingly enough, left handedness runs on both the maternal & paternal side of the family. I’ve read where stuttering may be a result of trying to change someone from left to right.

    I also stutter and have found it has worsened as I got older. It wasn’t so noticeable during my teen years. During my high school years I was in the choir and stuttering was never an issue. I now find myself having to overcompensate, changing the original word I am struggling to say with something similar.

    Any suggestions?

  18. Jane Binkoff says:

    I am a lefty-righty. I was never forced to change and was allowed to develop as I wished. However, I can only perform tasks where precision is required (writing, using scissors, crocheting, etc) with my left hand and I can only perform tasks where strength is required (sports, using a carving knife, etc) with my right hand. At times, I have tried to change (for instance, I catch a ball only with my right hand and throw a ball only with my right hand, which made playing first base a problem!).