2018 in Review for The Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust

2018 was a momentous year for us at START – perhaps not so visible for an outsider, but behind the scenes there was a lot happening.  

Our small team of highly qualified, skilled and compassionate Speech Language Therapists are the lifeblood of START. In 2018 Voon, Anna and Janelle answered many phone calls and email enquiries from concerned parents and worked directly with 177 people who stutter through individual and group therapy.  

With 2018 now behind us, and the excitement of 2019 ramping up for our organisation, we thought we’d take the time to look back on the achievements of the previous year.

We moved

Something our clients couldn’t have missed was the fact that at the beginning of last year we moved premises.  We had made our home in Parnell for close to 20 years, but with The Stichbury Bidwill Centre opening in Greenlane, we saw a fantastic opportunity to be part of a communication hub with related health professionals.

We are really enjoying our new office and it’s great working alongside the teams at The Hearing House, The Hearing Research Foundation and Soundskills.  If you haven’t had the chance to come and see the premises, we encourage you to come in and and say hi.

Our Board grew

2018 also saw our Board newly invigorated with old and new members coming together to share their expertise and passion for START. This change meant that 2018 was a year where our goals and mindset shifted, and we worked collaboratively with our Board to create policies, procedures, and opportunities for our organisation.

Thank you to all past and present Board members for your invaluable contribution to START – we couldn’t do it without you.

Our Speech Language Therapists grew their expertise

Professional Development is something we hold in high regard here at START, which is why we’re so fortunate that our SLTs are dedicated to growing their expertise as well as sharing it.  During 2018, Anna, Janelle and Voon attended national and international conferences to improve their clinical skills and to spread the word about the work we do.

Voon attended a Stuttering Foundation workshop in Philadelphia in July to continue to develop his passion of learning about treatment approaches from his US colleagues. He came back with different ways of working with school-aged and adolescents who stutter.

Anna attended the Lidcombe Program Trainer’s Consortium Symposium in June, and both Janelle and Anna presented papers at the New Zealand Speech-language Therapists Association Professional Development event in Dunedin in September. Janelle’s presentation focused on START’s Mentoring Programme for adults who stutter and the way the programme has evolved into supporting individuals who stutter via telehealth.  Anna presented a paper (via Skype) that looked at the delivery of stuttering treatment for preschoolers via Skype.

We shared ‘My Stutter’ with Auckland GPs and primary and intermediate schools

In 2017 we put together ‘My Stutter’ – an important little book of art, poetry and essays by New Zealand children and young people who stutter, packed full of useful insights, facts, and learning opportunities. We knew it was too good a resource to keep to ourselves, so with the generous help of Pub Charity Ltd we were able to send a copy to every GP in Auckland, as well as every primary and intermediate school in the region too.

The response we have had has been wonderful, with many SENCOs and teachers using the book as a resource to help kids develop empathy, as well as an increased understanding of stuttering. We encourage you to ask your GP or school if they have received a copy.

If you would like to purchase your own copy, you can do so here.

We shared even more information and insights with the New Zealand public!

Creating a community that understands stuttering and is open-minded is extremely important to us, which is why when the opportunity came up in July to feature in, not one but two segments on The Project in 2018 we had to say yes.  We’re always grateful for the chance to spread positivity around stuttering, and we are especially grateful for the thoughtful and respectful way The Project handled the topic.

We also created a video of our own to share insights into what it is like to be a person who stutters. The theme for 2018’s International Stuttering Awareness Day (celebrated on 22nd October each year) was ‘Speak your Mind’, and with that theme in mind we decided to create a video featuring people who stutter and their supporters sharing what they “wish people knew about stuttering”.

You can view The Project and ISAD videos here.

So what will 2019 bring for us? You’ll have to wait and see…

Is stuttering genetic?

For the most part.

We know that’s not the most clear answer, however stuttering is quite a complicated condition that experts still don’t know everything about – as a result, answers to seemingly simple questions can be quite lengthy.

When people discuss genetics, they often are asking if there is one single gene that dictates whether a person stutters, is deaf, has blue eyes etc and if these genes are passed down among relatives. However, genetics is far more complicated than that, and often there are numerous – if not hundreds – of genes that dictate even the smallest of attributes. And of course, not all personal attributes are related to genetics.

However, when it comes to stuttering, what we know is that in most? – but not all – instances, stuttering is genetic, in that it was passed down through family members.

In what situations does this happen?

Anna Hearne, our Massey University -based Speech Language Therapist says “children who stutter often have a family history of stuttering however the relationship between genetics and stuttering is far from clear. About 70% of those who stutter have a family history of stuttering, so a family history isn’t necessary for stuttering to develop. There are even cases of identical twins, who share the same genetic material, where one twin stutters and the other doesn’t.”

If you are person who stutters, then there is approximately a 70% chance that there is a person in your family who also stutters. However your stutter may not necessarily look (or sound) identical to theirs. Simply because they are more likely to stutter with certain words, letters, or sounds, or their stutter involves prolonged sounds or repetitions, does not mean that your stutter will also resemble this.

Another factor that makes the genetics of stuttering complicated, is that it seems to differ amongst men and women. The fact that stuttering is more likely to happen to males is something well-documented, and which we’ve discussed before, however, this ratio is far different if it is an inherited stutter. If there is a relative who stutters, then the case of inherited stuttering becomes 1 female to every 1.5 males, as opposed to 1 female to every 7 or 8 males.

This only serves to complicate the matter, and there is still plenty of research to be done around this.

Regardless, there is one thing we would like to make clear, which is that the fact that stuttering runs in families is due to genetics and not because stuttering is contagious or children are learning to stutter by copying a family member. Sometimes parents of children who stutter ask whether it’s possible that their child is subconsciously copying another person who stutters, but this is absolutely not true.

If you or someone in your family is a person who stutters, we welcome you to get in touch with us to find out how we can support you.

International Stuttering Awareness Day – What I Wish People Knew About Stuttering

This years theme for International Stuttering Awareness Day is ‘Speak Your Mind’.
We spent time during our Teen Fluency Course follow up day brainstorming with the teens and student helpers what we wish people knew about stuttering.
There are a lot of myths and preconceived ideas about stuttering, but in this video, you might learn something new.
If you would like to help our organisation this International Stuttering Awareness Day, please share this video with your friends and family, or you can donate at:
https://givealittle.co.nz/donate/org/startnz

Is there a cure for stuttering?

The short answer is no.

There is no known cure for stuttering, and like any other speech disorder, it requires therapy and practice to treat or manage it, and while some people report that their stutter suddenly “disappears”, for most adults who stutter they will continue to do so for their entire lives.

The long answer is, however, a little more complex than that.

While there is no magic pill or cure that will stop a person stuttering, there are effective tools you can use to manage your stutter.  Working with a speech language therapist who specialises in stuttering can be beneficial for people who stutter, for both their communication skills and their confidence.

Young children who stutter

Stuttering among children is far more common than among adults with approx 10% of children developing a stutter at some stage in the preschool years. However, for unknown reasons, likely linked to the still developing brain, many pre-school children naturally stop stuttering and don’t require therapy.

Stuttering is best treated during the preschool years so the best advice we can give parents is to please give us a call if your child begins to stutter. This way, we can determine whether your child needs to come in for an initial assessment (children under 6 years get their initial appointment free!), or whether parents are better to monitor their child’s stuttering for a period before we decide together if therapy is required.

Contact the START team to receive specialist advice and peace of mind knowing you’ve spoken to the experts first.

Pre-teens and teens who stutter

Generally speaking, pre-teens and teens who stutter are likely to have been stuttering since they were a child. If they have yet to speak to a Speech Language Therapist, we highly recommend you set up an appointment with one of our team so they can discuss the options available to them for help and support.

At this age, young people may have developed communication related anxiety and confidence issues as a result of their stutter. Because stuttering only affects 1% of the population, often young people have not met anyone else who stutters, and this can make them feel isolated.  Meeting other people their age who also stutter is a great way to meet others who face the same challenges and therefore helps to increase confidence.

We offer courses that teach tools to manage stuttering and meet others who stutter in a supportive environment.  The video below features a young teen attending one of our courses.

Adults who stutter

Adults who stutter are likely to have been living with their stuttering since childhood.  Adults who stutter are likely to have had treatment in the past (which may or may not have been helpful).  However often at significant transition points such as finishing study and applying for jobs it can be helpful to review techniques and receive support from a Speech Language Therapist. 

If you are looking at re-engaging with speech language therapy, please make an appointment with one of our team so that we can discuss your options; whether your needs are around confidence, speech techniques, or meeting others who stutter. We have a range of options available such as individual therapy, intensive week long courses, a mentoring program and social opportunities.

The truth is, while many people are looking for a “cure” for their stutter, there simply isn’t a quick fix available. A more helpful way of handling or living with stuttering can be having confidence in yourself and seeing your stutter as a part of who you are rather than something you should try and ‘get rid of’ or ‘hide’. However, we recognise that it can also be very beneficial to learn techniques and tools to manage your stutter.

Introducing our newly reinvigorated board

It’s been an exciting year so far for START, and we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes on some really exciting stuff (as well as some less exciting but no-less important tasks such as updating our health and safety policies)!

We’re so grateful to have a wonderful group of supporters who help us in a number of ways; by making donations, volunteering, and even sharing our posts with their Facebook friends.

Something that we are equally excited and grateful about is the number of wonderful new Board members who have joined our team here at START. Our newly reinvigorated Board is a dedicated team of volunteers who were chosen for their wide range of skills, experience, and commitment to START and its governance. We are so proud to have such a wide variety of skills and passions represented.

Our Board is led by Eric Allan, someone who is deeply passionate about the work we do here at START. When asked why he decided to take on such a role he told us, “I joined the START Board because START changes the lives of people, both young and old, who stutter.  I’ve had many years in community social service leadership and governance and bring that to START. I also have a lived experience of stuttering and START helped me with that. As an organisation we are in great heart.  As a Board we want everyone who stutters to know that START is here and ready to help. To enable this, our Board focus in 2018 is on expanding our loyal support base. This will ensure that we have the people and financial resources we need to respond to as many people who stutter as possible.”

We are so fortunate to have someone with his ideas and dedication leading our Board.

Anita Hayhoe, on the other hand, brings fresh perspectives with her position in marketing, and says, “When I saw the START board position advertised on the Institute of Directors website I immediately felt a connection with it and for what I could contribute in terms of building partnerships and bringing new ideas. START provides confidence and skills to people who stutter, and provides a supportive place for people who stutter to  become the people they want to be. My personal interests in singing and performing make me realise the importance of a voice in terms of expression and confidence.”

Other Board members would simply like an opportunity to make a difference to our community.  Tony McAlwee tells us, “I have good memories of working with a speech language therapist as a child. I wanted to give back to the community so when an opportunity arose to join START’s Board, I knew this was where I could put my commercial skills and fundraising experience to good use.”

If you would like to read more about who our Board members are and what they bring to START, please check out our Board members page here.

5 ways to help someone who stutters

If you’re someone who doesn’t stutter, you might have a number of questions about what to do when talking to someone who does, and how you can best help them. If you’re worried you might offend them, or you’re unsure of the best way to phrase a question, then read on.

As with everything else, people who stutter are all very different, and as a result, individuals may have their own preferences on what they want listeners to do when they are stuttering. For instance, it’s generally considered that the cardinal rule of helping a person who stutters is to let them finish their sentence, but there are still a few people who stutter who prefer others to finish their sentences for them – to “get it over with” as some have described it. It’s good practice to always ask someone what they prefer, but if you’d rather avoid it, then it’s best to let them finish.

So, other than letting them finish, what are other ways you can help a person who stutters?

  1. Don’t tell them how to stop stuttering

Unless you are a qualified Speech Language Therapist, it usually isn’t helpful if you tell them how to stop stuttering, or if you’ve found a cure. The majority of people who stutter have done so most of their lives, and have likely been through therapy and done their own research on how to improve their fluency. There is no known cure, and often anecdotes of your own family members or acquaintances who have cured their stutter will not help the person you are talking to.

  1. Don’t make jokes about stuttering

Although stuttering remains a punchline for many comedians, writers, and everyday people, it’s often no laughing matter for a person who stutters. It can be an extremely debilitating experience, and to find that your dysfluency is the butt of a joke can be tough.

  1. Let them know you are here to talk

Stuttering can be very isolating, and people who stutter often feel as though they miss out on social interactions that other people have. If someone in your life stutters, make sure they know that you’re there for them, and that you support them. Letting them finish their sentences is the first step, but being a great friend is even better. Listening actively and making sure they know it’s ok to talk about stuttering with you is a great way to help a person who stutters.

  1. Stand up for them

While we hope there never comes a time that a person who stutters is bullied, or discriminated against either at school, in the workplace, or anywhere else, the reality is that these situations can still happen. If a person who stutters in your life is experiencing negativity or discrimination, it’s important that you discuss it with them and stand up for them.

  1.  Stand with them

Every person who stutters is different. Some prefer to accept their stutter and leave it as is, while others are more interested in treatment and exercises to help with fluency and confidence. Some find that they have anxiety due to their stutter, whereas others don’t. Some prefer you to speak for them, while others want you to let them finish. If there is a person in your life who stutters, find out what works best for them, and stand with them in their decisions.

Stuttering vs stammering – what’s the difference?

Very occasionally, we have people asking us what the distinction is between stammering and stuttering. It’s an understandable question, and with the two words floating around it’s difficult to tell which is the right one to use.

We’re here to set the record straight, once and for all.

There is no difference – sort of.

A quick Google search will give you a number of answers, with many people claiming that a stutter is the repetition of letters, whereas a stammer is the blocking and prolongations. There are others who say it is a clinical distinction used by professionals, and there are some who claim that a stutter is something you are born with and a stammer is something you develop due to trauma or nerves.

The reason that both stutter and stammer exist and describe the same speech dysfluency is because stammer is a mostly British term, whereas stutter is largely used in the US, as well as New Zealand and Australia.

A great explanation of this is by Lynne Murphy, a linguist who writes the blog ‘Separated by a Common Language’. Lynne has used her extensive knowledge of linguistics, as well as some fantastic Googling to find how the terms are used and when, and more importantly where. Her conclusion is:

“If it is the case that stammering and stuttering are different things, then it looks like in the 1960s, they found a cure for stammering in America, and somehow that accidentally brought on more stuttering. Of course that’s not what happened. What happened is that stutter took over in [American English] as the usual term.”

This is a great explanation of the phenomenon, and puts the case to rest.

There are only 2 ways in which stutter and stammer are different:

  • One is used predominantly by American English speakers, while the other is predominantly used by British English speakers.
  • One has two extra T’s and a U, while the other has two M’s and an A

If you’re interested in more interesting facts about stuttering, head to our FAQ page and have all your questions answered!

5 ways you can help our charity that aren’t just donating money

(although we’d appreciate that too!)

As a charity, a lot of what makes our world go around is the support we receive from the community – but there’s a misconception that to help a charity you need to donate money. We’re here to dispel the rumours, and show you 5 ways you can support us without donating money! Unless you want to, in which case you can donate here.

1 . Volunteer your time

Our organisation is a relatively small charity with big goals. We know that there are roughly 45,000 people in New Zealand who stutter and we’d love to reach them all – but that takes people-power. To get to where we want to be we need to put the time in to make our charity work like a well oiled machine, and having volunteers work with us is a rewarding and fun way for you to be able to give back. Jacqui, who volunteers her time with us helping to streamline our booking process, says that volunteering with START “is really rewarding. It’s so special to see our SLTs work with the kids, and it feels good to know that there’s a place for people to go to get support.”

  1. Volunteer your expertise

As we work hard to get our charity in front of as many Kiwis as possible, we’ve found a real need for digital savvy support. Our website, PR, and other aspects of getting the word out about stuttering are all areas of our charity that require some additional expertise. If you have skills in an industry or area that you think could benefit our organisation, even in some small way, we would love to hear from you and see how we can get you on board!

  1. Purchase a copy of our book ‘My Stutter’

Last year for International Stuttering Awareness Day, we received a number of wonderful submissions from Kiwi kids who stutter, and compiled their art, poetry, and essays on stuttering into a charming book titled ‘My Stutter’. This book is a fantastic coffee-table book and conversational piece to get Kiwi’s to discuss and understand what a stutter is, and what it is like to grow up with one. Even better, all of the profits from this book go directly to our charity to help us support more Kiwi kids who stutter. You can purchase a copy here.

  1. Share your story

One of the greatest struggles we have is to share stories and anecdotes of our clients – understandably! Having a stutter can be a very personal experience that many don’t wish to share, however only with openness and shared experiences can we reach more Kiwis who may need help and support. Being open to sharing your story in the form of a testimonial, or even to be interviewed for a short video is one of the most important ways you can support our charity. We rely on these human stories to help others, and it would be the most valuable way to help us if you have worked with us. If you are interested in sharing your story, please email us at support@start.org.nz.

  1. Spread the word

The easiest way to support us is to get the message out! We need you guys to be out there as our raving fans, and it’s as simple as liking, commenting and sharing our Facebook posts, or sharing this blog post with your friends. If you have media contacts, or know a person who stutters, sharing our message and our services can make a real change. It’s as easy as clicking a button but it can help our organisation in more ways than we could count.

If you think you can help our charity, please contact us at support@start.org.nz and we’d love to hear from you!

Why don’t we stutter when we sing?

Have you ever noticed that you don’t stutter when you sing?

Or if you’re a person who doesn’t stutter, have you ever wondered why you’ve never heard someone stutter while singing? If you watch the video below of Harrison Craig – season 2 winner of The Voice Australia 2013 – you’ll understand how big the change between speaking and singing can be for someone who stutters.

It’s an interesting observation, and there’s no single answer for why this phenomenon occurs. Scientists and researchers have worked hard to answer many difficult questions about stuttering, however when it comes to the singing debate, there are a few strong theories.

Singing occurs in a different part of the brain:

The University of Iowa has done some research on this topic, and have concluded that “Music is an activity in which you use the right side of the brain (language uses the left), so when you sing music, you’re no longer using your left brain (and probably no longer stuttering).”

This is an interesting observation and could very well be why singing is unaffected by stuttering.

We use our vocal cords and mouths differently when singing:

It’s true that in order to sing (well), we need to alter the way we use our vocal cords, as well as how we shape our tongues and mouths. There is a theory that this could have a part to play in why people don’t stutter when they sing and is attributed as one of the potential reasons by The Stuttering Foundation of America.

Here at START we think it could be a combination of our using our vocal cords and mouths differently as well as singing activating a different part of the brain. As one of our SLT Voon Pang says; “the brain controls the mouth, so if the brain is telling the mouth to do something different then I suppose this could be one of the reasons why we don’t stutter when we sing.”

Singing is a different form of communication than most speaking:

Most communication is two-way. It involves an unpredictable conversation, where you can’t plan your next answer. It also holds the potential for the other person or people to interrupt, or to become impatient. Singing, however, is mostly one-way communication, and eliminates the possibility for these challenges. We have often memorised the  lyrics when we sing, rather than facing an unpredictable conversation, and unless we are at karaoke it’s unlikely anyone in the audience is planning to interrupt.

We have had many parents comment that when a child is playing by themselves, or talking to themselves, that their stutter is not present. This could be similar to why one-way communication in singing reduces stuttering.

These three theories may or may not be the reason why we don’t stutter when we sing, it may be a combination of the three, or it could even be something else. The truth is, there is still a lot of research to be done.

What we do know, however, is that while singing, putting on an accent, or otherwise altering the way you speak can reduce stuttering, it is still not a permanent cure – it’s unreasonable to expect  someone to alter their speech 24/7. However if you are concerned about your stutter, please speak to one of our Speech Language Therapists first, before resorting to singing for the rest of your life.