Breakfast on TV1 with Janelle Irvine and Dean Cook

Janelle Irvine (Executive Director) and Dean Cook (Board Member) from the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START) were interviewed on Breakfast on TV1 on 12 February to discuss The Genetics of Stuttering Study. It was also a great opportunity to talk more about stuttering with Dean sharing some great suggestions of how to interact with a person who stutters.

Entering the Workforce as a Person who Stutters – William’s Perspective

Kia ora START community

I’m William, and I’ve been stuttering since the age of three. Janelle was my speech language therapist going through school where I gradually developed my own set of stuttering tools and techniques. Currently, I am studying at the University of Otago and trying to navigate entering the workforce. This stage of a tertiary pathway can be confronting and daunting for young stutterers so I thought I would write a brief reflection about my experiences with the hope of answering some questions younger stutterers might have.

The asset of a stutterer’s unique set of experiences
As most stutterers know, stuttering can be socially alienating and cause anxiety when speaking in public. After feeling bullied, I can remember crying in Janelle’s office at START asking her to wave her magic wand and take my stutter away. However, these difficult experiences give stutterers a unique perspective and change how we interact in group situations. For example, stutterers understand the value of letting people finish their sentences, being inclusive, and hearing everyone’s ideas. Therefore, I think stutterers can have confidence knowing that you have unique skills because of your experiences as a stutterer.

First impressions and applying for jobs
In a professional context, first introductions can widely vary from person to person. Naturally people will have questions if your stutter is noticed, however it is an opportunity to be authentic and not anything to be afraid of. This scenario is a chance to show employers you are empathetic and receptive which is what employers are hunting for. Recruiters do not care if you stutter; if you can work in a team, have a good character, and work hard, you’ll be fine! After all the US President, Joe Biden, has a stutter.

Stuttering in the workplace
Stuttering is treated very differently outside of school. If someone discredits or mocks a stutterer, it reflects poorly on the character of that individual. In larger companies particularly, human resources departments are dedicated to ensuring that a bullying culture cannot thrive. Additionally, when co-workers want to discuss stuttering it can be confronting, however it is an awesome opportunity to share a stutterer’s experience with genuine people trying to develop understanding.

Building up other skills
Being a stutterer is also an opportunity to give back and interact with START and the wider stuttering community. There are many leadership opportunities in a safe, inclusive environment for stutterers, such as providing peer support at schools or speaking to a group of children and young people who stutter. These are opportunities to develop leadership skills and can give confidence to branch out into clubs, societies, and other roles.

Overall, with a stutter, one has a unique set of experiences and it doesn’t need to define or limit job prospects. It’s about going out, meeting people amongst different communities, building a deep and wide knowledge base, and finally pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Let’s go smash it!

William Missen

William welcomes anyone who would like to talk to reach out to him. If you email us at we can forward your email on to him.

Navigating Christmas

Kia ora, I’m Felix, a social worker at START and a person who stutters.

Christmas is a festive but often busy time of year. We’re looking forward to a well-deserved summer holiday and spending quality time with family and friends but before then, there’s often a lot of “social” events which can be a bit stressful and worrying for some people who stutter. 

I explained in my previous blog that social gatherings can be intimidating and tricky to navigate for people who stutter for various reasons. So, if you’re a person who stutters and you’re feeling a bit worried about the social demands of Christmas some of the suggestions below might be helpful for you.

  1. Before you arrive at an event or gathering, remind yourself that our reactions to our own stuttering moments and how we continue conversations makes a real difference to us and our confidence, and has an influence on the listener and their reaction too. So, how do you react to and deal with your stuttering moments when they happen? What are you happy with? Is there anything you would like to do differently? 
  2. If bigger groups worry you (e.g. work Christmas parties), try to have one conversation at a time. Talk with a person you trust and feel comfortable with first. This can help you settle in, and give you time to relax as your build up your confidence to socialise with others.
  3. Try to stick to your own pace, pitch and tone of voice, which aligns with my previous point. Don’t let yourself get rushed. Adapting to other people’s speech patterns can be distracting and throw you off balance. 
  4. Take regular breaks, e.g. take a breath of fresh air and remind yourself of all the aforementioned tips and tricks. This can be helpful if you notice you’re becoming a bit tense and stressed and your stuttering is increasing. 
  5. Be kind to yourself and remember you’re not at the work Christmas party or family get together to speak as fluently as possible or hide your stutter as much as you can. You’re there to celebrate a successful work year, connect with your colleagues or spend quality time with your loved ones. Be mindful to not let your stutter distract you and become the focus of your interactions. 
  6. I know we sometimes worry about not being social “enough” due to our stutter. Let me assure you, you are social “enough”! Dont pressure yourself to be a social butterfly if that’s just not you. But at the same time it’s also fine if you enjoy being social and engaging with others. We all have different personality types with different “social” comfort zones and that’s totally okay. What matters is that you feel comfortable to communicate and say what you want to say regardless of where you are, who you are with and if you happen to have a few speech bumps along the way.  

At the end of the day, Christmas is not about how much we stutter or how much we say. It’s about “togetherness”, connecting with others, thinking about what’s important to us and appreciating what we have in life. Now, go on and have fun socialising with your workmates, family and friends and treat yourself to an extra slice of pavlova –  you deserve it!

Therapy for anyone in Aotearoa who stutters: opportunities emerging from challenges

When our founders set up START over 25 years ago they dreamed that one day anyone in Aotearoa New Zealand who stuttered would be able to get the help they needed.

Little could we anticipate that the advent of COVID-19 would be the catalyst to achieving that. As most of us now know, COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns had a massive impact on so many in our START community. For months, our speech language therapists and other team members had to work from home so clients had their therapy by Zoom.

Zoom has impacted our START community in ways that we could never have predicted. People can now get help from anywhere in Aotearoa. Currently, three out of every ten people who come to us for that help, are from out of Auckland. Pre ‘Zoom’ they could never have had the therapy and support that they are now able to receive.

Whether people who stutter live in Auckland, Tauranga, Wanganui, Foxton, Napier, Wellington, Invercargill, Christchurch or Westport, or anywhere else in our country (with access to an internet connection), they are able to work with one of our speech language therapists or our social worker.  We are excited that anyone in Aotearoa, can now get help they need!

21 year old Chris is keen to share his story of what this has meant to him:

»Chris’s story
“Almost 3 years ago now, when I went off to university, I was struggling with my speech so I tried to look for any speech therapy places in Wellington but none looked as if they’d be that much help.

I almost gave up on the search but luckily enough my mum gave me a call and said that there was this really good organisation in Auckland called START, and that they do the therapy over Zoom.

At first I was very sceptical but I thought I’d try it out anyway and see if it helped. After just a few weeks of doing the therapy over Zoom I could already see improvements and ways that it was helping me just like if I were to do it in person. I picked up helpful techniques and practiced skills to aid in my journey to be more fluent. I think that START having the option to do therapy over Zoom is great. It means people who stutter from all over New Zealand can reach out to START for some help. For me, Zoom therapy has been just as beneficial as in-person therapy and I’d highly recommend it.”

With your help we can continue to provide therapy and support to people from all over Aotearoa, despite the increasing demand. Just as Chris was able to get the help and support he needed at such an important time in his life, we want everyone else to be able to get the help they need when they need it.

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The challenge of meeting new people

Kia ora, I’m Felix, a social worker at START and a person who stutters. 

Introducing yourself and talking to a new person or group of people can be a challenging and stressful thing for people who stutter. We tend to worry about what people may think or say if we stutter.  We may also experience strong emotional and physical reactions, such as anxiety, shame, guilt, increased heart rate, shortness of breath or feeling shaky, hot or tense. 

I know these feelings and worrying thoughts first-hand. I can remember some social interactions with new people and their surprised faces and negative comments when I stuttered. These reactions are usually not made to intentionally hurt or upset. However, they can reinforce the negative associations and strong reactions people who stutter may have about meeting and talking to new people. This can result in avoidance or reduced social participation and affect a person’s sense of self, wellbeing and quality of life. 

So, how can a person who stutters manage worrying thoughts and emotional/physical reactions and navigate meeting and talking to new people more confidently?

Here are few tips and tricks: 

  • First and foremost, I believe it’s important to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings when meeting and talking to new people. They are valid and understandable!

  • Be mindful not to over-generalise past negative experiences and predict they will happen again in the future. The human brain tends to magnify/remember the negatives and minimise/overlook the positives. So, remind yourself that not every social interaction you’ve had or reactions from others you’ve received in the past have been negative.

  • Don’t look at social interactions solely through the “stuttering lens”, but explore other perspectives too, e.g., “What are other people’s view points on this?”, “What’s my reason to go to this social event or talk to a new person? Is it to hide my stutter and speak fluently or have a good time with my friends and potentially meet someone new?”. Also, “Am I forgetting about all my other awesome characteristics?”. Remember, you are so much more than your stutter! It’s something you happen to have; it does not define you!

  • Try to take the initiative to introduce yourself and start the conversation. This gives you a sense of control and power, instead of letting the anxiety and worrying thoughts creep up in anticipation that someone may or may not approach you and ask for your name, start a conversation, etc. Personally, I find this strategy very helpful.

  • Consider talking openly about your stutter if you feel it’s appropriate and helpful for you in that situation. Addressing “the elephant in the room” takes courage but can really help to reduce stress. It brings your focus back to the actual situation and directs your thoughts away from ruminating about stuttering. However, be mindful about the language you use. The way we speak about stuttering will influence how other people will think about and react to it.

Ultimately, if you are a person who stutters you will stutter and that is okay. There is no right or wrong way to speak. At the end of the day, it matters what you say, not how you say it. 

Unjustified Dismissal –Supporting people who stutter in the workplace

In July 2020, Olivia Farrelly was dismissed from her job after disclosing her stutter to her employer during an informal performance meeting held at a cafe. Her employer called the meeting as they had concerns about her ability to communicate after hearing her stutter on the phone with customers. Following Olivia’s disclosure, the employer’s response was to offer her a different role which did not involve speaking on the phone, then dismiss her when this offer was declined.

Two years later, in August 2022 Olivia won a claim of unlawful discrimination against her
former employer, who has been ordered to pay her $22,000 for hurt and humiliation, and lost earnings.

Although Olivia herself doesn’t see her stutter as a disability (this is a personal view), it was treated as one during this process. The Human Rights Act states that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their disability, and that disabled people have the right to be treated with respect, dignity and equity.

The most obvious issue, and the one that the Employment Relations Authority agreed on, was that Olivia should not have been dismissed from her job for having a stutter, a stutter that Olivia reports was not impacting on her ability to do her job.

Underlying this decision by Olivia’s employer, is a more widespread issue facing people who stutter. The general public, including employers, often have a misguided perception of stuttering, and as a result do not have the knowledge or experience in how to appropriately and effectively respond to and support people who stutter in the workplace.

Given that approximately 1% of people have a stutter (that’s 50,000 New Zealanders, and over 70 million people worldwide) with many of those being teens and adults in employment, this is a significant issue.

People who stutter are capable individuals, who with the right support and understanding can be incredibly successful. There is a long list of successful people who stutter (both well-known and everyday kiwis) who are in roles that require effective communication skills. The narrow view that people who stutter cannot communicate effectively, or cannot carry out roles which require speaking is harmful and unhelpful. Effective communication involves a myriad of skills. Formulating language clearly and concisely, delivering the message with expression, adapting the message to suit the listener, using body language and facial expression, choice of vocabulary…the list goes on. People who stutter can do all these things, and often do them well, albeit with an unpredictable flow or rhythm, and perhaps some face or body movements (known as secondary behaviours). As with everyone, there’ll also be people who stutter with less than strong communication skills, which would usually be identified during the interview process.

Olivia’s decision not to disclose her stutter in the interview is personal, and one we
frequently discuss in therapy. The reasons for choosing not to disclose vary. Some people feel that their stutter is irrelevant, and will not impact their interview or their ability to do their job. For others, they fear the reaction, discrimination and rejection. If the general public had a good understanding of stuttering, and knew how to support people in the workplace, would people who stutter still fear the consequences of disclosure in this setting?

It’s clear that employers and colleagues require an increased awareness and understanding of stuttering. If you have someone in your workplace who stutters, or if you are an employer or manager of someone who stutters, here are a few tips:

● When you hear someone stuttering, maintain easy eye contact and wait for them to finish their sentence
● Focus on what someone is saying, not how they’re saying it
● If you have concerns about an employee’s communication skills, open up the conversation in a safe and sensitive manner. Not everyone likes or has experience in talking about their stutter with others
● Be open to appropriate modifications to make communication easier for your employee
● Don’t make assumptions – everyone who stutters has different feelings, views and experiences of their stutter. Don’t assume that someone who stutters doesn’t want to do public speaking
● Praise their contribution and communication – regardless of whether or not they stutter
● Employers and employees are able to contact START for advice and support

As an organisation, we’re aware that we can do better at educating and supporting workplaces to be better equipped at supporting people who stutter. In the short term, we plan to create a section on our website for employers. Until then, there are some useful resources available internationally.

STAMMA – Information for Employers

Lastly, here’s a link to some videos that show that people who stutter can and should be
heard in the workplace.

Welcome to John and Felix – our new team members

Since the first lockdown (which seems so long ago now) we have seen a steady increase in clients accessing our services from all around Aotearoa. It’s wonderful to be reaching more of the stuttering community, but it has stretched our team of Speech Language Therapists (SLTs) and has meant that some people have had to wait to see one of the team.

So we are delighted to tell you two exciting pieces of news. Firstly John Doleman has joined our team as our newest SLT! Secondly, Felix Unger has joined the team in a new role we have added, providing additional support for people who stutter. 

John Doleman is coming to us from the UK, where he has spent the past 12 years working with children and adults in the National Health Service (NHS) and also in his private practice. Although experienced as a generalist SLT, John is looking forward to specialising in stuttering.

John had been looking for opportunities to specialise in working with people who stutter for five years, but recently he and his whānau decided to make the move back to New Zealand where he originally trained. The timing was perfect, coinciding with our new role here at START!

When asked about what drew him to this role, John says “I’m really excited about the opportunity I’ve been given to specialise in stuttering, something I’ve thought about for many years, so it’s nice to end up in a place I’ve visualised being for such a long time. I am also really pleased to have a small, dedicated team of experienced SLTs supporting me as I develop my work with people who stutter. That, coupled with my wider experience gives me confidence as I take on this important work.

“My main hope is to reach a broad range of people, older and younger, and help them understand their stutter, identify their communication strengths and ultimately support them in a way that works best for each of them in their lives.”

Felix Unger is taking up an exciting new role at START providing specialist support for some in our community – this is a pilot project. Felix is a previous client of START and since then has been part of the START community. With qualifications and experience in social work and counselling, Felix has previously been involved in SpeakEasy – a support group for people who stutter. This mix of his professional skills and life experience makes him a great fit for this role.

When asked about his interest in this role, Felix says “coming to START was an incredibly helpful and empowering experience for me and I have stayed in touch since then. During the Covid-19 lockdowns I realised what is important to me, and that I want to give back to the stuttering community by providing counselling, social work and peer support, informed by being a person who stutters.

“I am looking forward to connecting with, and supporting many in our START community, helping them to develop confidence and to shape the future that they are working towards. I am also very excited to work alongside, and learn from all of the START team, so that I can better support people who stutter, and of course, keep learning myself”.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to have them join the team, and we hope that very soon, COVID permitting, we can all be back at The Stichbury Bidwill Centre, working together in person.

Therapy for stuttering still available during the COVID-19 lockdown

Connecting with people through technology is more important now than it’s ever been before. We are incredibly fortunate to have so many different devices and apps available that enable us to connect, albeit virtually, with our loved ones, colleagues and clients during this difficult time.

The transition to working from home, and connecting with our clients via video call has been a fairly smooth one for the Speech Language Therapists at START, as we have been using Skype for stuttering therapy for a number of years.  We already see approximately 30% of our clients via Skype, so we are pleased that we can continue to offer this option to all existing and new clients during this time.

Therapy via Skype has enabled us to further our reach, and provide stuttering therapy to people of all ages across New Zealand. We are no longer bound to see only Auckland based clients, and for our Auckland based clients it gives them the flexibility to avoid the traffic if needed. This is important to us, as every person who stutters in New Zealand should have access to specialist support at any time. 

The current situation will look different for every household, with the capabilities and stressors for each person varying and likely changing over time. We expect that as people settle into their new routines (or lack of), and ways of living, they may find time to focus on something new. For people who stutter, or parents and caregivers of people who stutter, this may be a good opportunity to engage in or re-engage in therapy. 

You may wonder what therapy via Skype looks like.

It might be hard to imagine what therapy via Skype looks like, particularly with active pre-schoolers, but one of our SLTs, Anna Hearne, who is experienced in providing therapy via Skype has the following to say. “It works just the same. Just like in a therapy session, the pre-schooler doesn’t just sit in one spot…but the parent is still there”.  Children often have experience in talking to friends and family members via video call, and are usually more than willing to talk to us about their bug collections and favourite toys. For older children, teens and adults, therapy looks much the same as a face to face session. 

So, just how effective is it?

Research has shown that therapy for stuttering via video call is just as effective as therapy in person. 

For people interested in attending Skype therapy and provided you have a device with webcam or camera abilities, we can schedule an appointment for you. We will continue to be available to contact via phone and email.

Avoidance Reduction Therapy and its uses for people who stutter

Have you heard about Avoidance Reduction Therapy? In this blog, Beth Laurenson, one of our Speech Language Therapists, explains this therapy approach and how it can be used in treating people who stutter.

Avoidance Reduction Therapy for Stuttering (ARTS) is based on the idea that, although stuttering is thought to be a neurological difference, the struggle of stuttering in adulthood is a result of the fear of stuttering. ARTS helps a person to stutter in an easier way, and to embrace their identity as a person who stutters. The purpose of Avoidance Reduction Therapy is just that – to reduce avoidance behaviours, which increase physical struggle and promote negative feelings about speech. 

The goal is not stutter-free speech, but for the individual to communicate in an easier way, and to freely participate in any activities they choose, whether they stutter or not. The individual takes on the role of a person who stutters, rather than hiding their stutter. Reported outcomes of ARTS include comfort and efficiency of speaking, confidence, and enjoyment of communication. 

The ARTS approach is based on avoidance conflict theory created by Joseph Sheehan (Professor of Psychology) and his wife Vivian Sheehan (Speech Language Pathologist/Therapist). The desire to speak but also the desire to pull back results in additional behaviours, e.g. jaw jerks or closing eyes layered on top of stuttering.  This often creates more struggle and intensifies the stuttering, creating “show stoppers” (stutters which last a long time and interrupt the flow of conversation). These often leave the person caught up thinking about the stutter afterwards, resulting in reduced enjoyment of communication. The fear of ‘showing’ stuttering often results in avoidance of words or situations. 

ARTS works by removing additional behaviours from the individual’s stutter, leaving the core stuttering behaviours. By removing layers which increase avoidance and struggle, speech becomes easier and more enjoyable. 

Here is an example of an individual’s stuttering iceberg, the elements which are removed during ARTS crossed out.

What does ARTS look like?

ARTS is based on each individual’s needs. Weekly assignments are created which work towards easier stuttering, and speaking freely (saying what you want when you want). 

Examples of specific goals may be to:

  • increase eye contact
  • systematically reduce additional movements which occur during stuttering e.g. head/body movements
  • decrease word avoidance by putting the stutter where it should be
  • speak to a range of different people in different situations (with specific goals in mind e.g. earlier in therapy, answering the phone may be the measure of success, whereas later in therapy answering the phone and stuttering freely without word avoidance may be the measure of success).

ARTS is not a quick fix, and involves facing fears. However, the outcomes promote long term comfort and enjoyment of communication, without using tools or techniques to cover up stuttering. Many people note increases in natural fluency as a by-product of ARTS, as natural fluency often comes to those who do not value it. 

Welcoming Nikki – our Grants Coordinator

This formal introduction is well overdue, as Nikki joined us in April of 2019! It has been wonderful having her join the team, taking charge of the Grants Coordinator position, previously filled by the amazing Frances.

Although Frances left big shoes to fill, we’ve been thoroughly impressed by Nikki’s enthusiasm, energy, and not the least by her impressive fashion sense.

Nikki comes from a background of marketing and fundraising for not-for-profits, Sales roles in Publishing and the Liquor Industry, plus running her own business.  Nikki has a lifetime of travelling, helping others, and sharing her wisdom to bring to the role – a role that is fundamental to the very lifeblood of our organisation. As a not-for-profit, START is able to continue providing life changing services through the generous contributions of grants and trusts across Aotearoa. Our mahi is supported through the financial support we receive from these wonderful funders, and we’re able to apply for and receive these because of the hard work our Grants Coordinator puts in.

So you can see why it’s important to have someone like Nikki on our team! We feel very fortunate to have her with us, but what are her thoughts?

“START is such a wonderful organisation.  The team and the board are all lovely and are all incredibly dedicated to helping people who stutter. It’s an inspiring place to work and I love to hear about all the life-changing work that the team are doing.  Working at START is a lot of fun, and I count myself lucky to be here”

On behalf of our staff, the board, and most importantly our wonderful clients, welcome Nikki! We’re happy you’re here with us.