Ricoh – Helping kids achieve their best START

In September last year, START sent out an appeal letter with the goal of raising $7,200 to help 10 Kiwi kids access treatment for stuttering. In response to this, Mike Pollok, CEO of Ricoh, and former START Board Member, reached out to us and generously offered to contribute 50% towards our goal. We are very grateful for this considerable contribution.  We are delighted to share with you the story Ricoh published in their internal staff newsletter – The Ricoh Review.


In September 2018, the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START) approached its supporter database with the goal to raise $7200 to provide specialist speech language therapy to ten Kiwi kids who stutter.

START was established in 1995 by a group of people who had experienced stuttering first-hand—either themselves or as parents of children who stuttered. Based in Auckland, with an office in Greenlane and a satellite clinic at Massey University in Albany, START is a registered charitable trust and the only organisation in New Zealand that specialises in the treatment of stuttering.

START changes lives by providing specialist treatment and support to
people who stutter and their parents, families and whanau. A team of specialist speech language therapists provides both one-to-one treatment sessions and a range of group treatment options. START also offers a mentoring programme for adults who stutter, as well as hosting a range of social events for people of all ages.

“Half way through our campaign, we were approached by Mike Pollok, wanting to make a meaningful contribution towards our appeal,” says START Executive Director, Janelle Irvine.

“On behalf of Ricoh, Mike generously offered to contribute 50 per cent towards our target of $7200.”

“Having been involved with START for many years as a trustee, I witnessed first-hand the transformation in young peoples’ lives when they were able to speak fluently for the first time,” says Mike.

“Ricoh is a communications company, albeit a business one, but what is more intrinsic to human communication than the ability to speak fluently—something so many of us simply take for granted.”

“With the addition of the $3600 donation from Ricoh, START raised a total of $8695, which means we are now in the position to help over 10 Kiwi Kids who stutter. We are extremely thankful to Mike and Ricoh for helping us exceed our target,” says Janelle.

Ricoh’s donation, along with the other funds raised, will go a long way to helping other children who access START’s services, such as Addison, as well as their families.

“When our son, Addison was three-and-a-half, we noticed him having problems with his speech. Over a matter of weeks, his speech deteriorated to the point where he was struggling with almost every sentence and was trying to force words out,” says Leighton Duke.

“As parents it was hugely painful watching our young son struggle in this way and we felt hopeless not knowing how to cope with the challenges he faced. Eighteen months down the track, Addison is a confident speaker thanks to the support START has provided and we are now armed with the tools to help our son. We can’t begin to thank the START team enough; to again see smiles and hear our little boy express himself and his big thoughts freely!”

“As well as the generous financial contribution, Ricoh has a long-standing history of supporting START by providing a printer/photocopier/scanner at no charge, which is a hugely generous donation and a much-appreciated support to our organisation,” says Janelle.

What is a stutter? Common myths and misunderstandings.

Debunking common myths around stuttering

Although nearly everyone knows the word, unless you are a person who stutters, there can be a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding what a stutter really is.

Before we get into what stuttering is not, why don’t we start with what stuttering is?

Stuttering is an involuntary interruption to the flow of talking. This can occur in different ways:

Repeating sounds or syllables, e.g. “B b b but it’s my turn”
Repeating words, e.g. “Can can can I be next?”
Prolongations (or stretching sounds) “That fffffffish is swimming”
Blocks “I…….I like vanilla”

The severity and type of stuttering may vary in different situations and from person to person. Interruptions to the flow of speech may be accompanied by signs of tension and struggle, as well as fear, embarrassment, and anxiety. In some cases, stuttering can dominate a person’s view of themselves and their social and work relationships.

What causes it?

We do not know exactly what causes stuttering. Stuttering is thought to be a physical disorder, most likely resulting from a problem in the neural processing area involved in speech production. It also appears that a genetic pre-disposition may be involved, as stuttering often runs in families.

Is there a cure?

There is no known ‘cure’ for stuttering. There are a variety of effective treatments available for children and adults who stutter but there is no ‘magic pill’ or cure for stuttering. The best results are achieved when the stuttering is treated early in childhood, preferably before a child starts school.

So, there are the facts. But there are also a lot of common misconceptions about stuttering. We’d like to debunk a few of these.

People who stutter do so because they are nervous, stupid, or shy

This is not true. Stuttering is not caused by anxiety but rather having a stutter may make the speaker feel more anxious as they cannot predict when they will stutter or how other people will react to their stutter. People who don’t stutter often associate stuttering with feeling nervous because most people experience ‘fluency breakdowns’ when talking to a large audience or when under time pressure.  Even more important to note, is that a stutter has no relation to a person’s intelligence.

Stuttering is caused by emotional or physical trauma or stress

Stress and trauma can often make it more difficult for people who stutter to speak fluently, however they are generally not the cause of the stutter itself. Although there are some instances where physical trauma has caused a stutter (such as comedian Drew Lynch, who began to stutter after getting hit in the throat by a softball), these situations are fairly uncommon.

The reason why people stutter is still relatively unknown, but it  usually develops during early childhood, and has links to genetics.

Stuttering and stammering are two different things

Although we often hear that someone has a stammer, and not a stutter, these are actually both the same thing! They are simply different words used by people who speak American English, and British English. Much the same way British English people might call this a scone, and an American English person might call it a biscuit:


We’ve actually written an entire blog post on how stammering and stuttering are different, which you can check out here.

If you’re a person who stutters, we’d love to know what the most common myth you hear is! And if you aren’t a person who stutters, did you learn something new today?

University and START combine to create an oral history of START

Last year the Board and Executive Director decided to explore the possibility of creating a history of the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START) in an affordable way.  We approached a number of Universities to see if any had senior students interested in doing this as part of their study. Imagine our delight when Dr Aroha Harris, Senior Lecturer in the department of History at the University of Auckland made contact almost immediately expressing her strong interest. Dr Harris teaches an Honours level paper in Oral History.  We were delighted to hear of her interest and experience in creating community histories using a highly collaborative approach. Dr Harris has also worked in areas relating to government/community interface, which is very relevant to our history. It immediately became evident that this would be a very good way to advance this project.

The Board decided that it was important to get this project underway as soon as possible as the early steps which led to START’s establishment began in 1992 before the Trust was formally established in 1993.  Following much hard work to bring the organisation to that point, provision of speech language therapy services began in 1995. We are keen to talk with and gather information from the people involved in those early days while they are available and accessible.

Ongoing development of the project culminated in Nigel Whiteman, Janelle Irvine and Eric Allan meeting with Dr Harris and her class in April.  The areas of interest both to START and to the students were identified and a list of prospective interviewees has been developed. Since then the University has worked on its ethics approval and development of the project generally.  START has approached those people we believe would be most important to interview asking if they would agree to be interviewed. Most encouragingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, all of those approached have agreed to be interviewed. Interviews will be commencing in the next few weeks.  Some interviews will be as far away as Christchurch, Hawkes Bay and Tauranga.

The students will carry out the interviews and will also research START records and archives.  Some will also be researching other wider aspects of societal and policy changes that were present at the time that START was developed.  START came into being at a time when health and disability services were being reorganised with the reforms of the day, which included central government establishing local health organisations and stepping back from providing services in some areas, including stuttering.  This led to some people in the community coming together to form START as an organisation which would respond to the needs of people who stutter and the needs of their families.

The outcomes of the project will include the interviews together with a number of essays, both relating to the interviews and also more generally to START not only coming into being at a time of change but also continuing to develop as it a vital community organisation which has touched the lives of so many people affected by stuttering.  We are also hopeful that we will be able to compile the information into a single publication.

The history will also be an important part of the 25th anniversary next year of START providing services.  It will have gathered up many stories and will be a useful collective story of a community organisation not only coming into being but also continuing to develop over its 25 years.  A truly important history!

Flowers mark Janelle Irvine’s ten years of service to people who stutter

In April Janelle Irvine completed ten years of service to the stuttering community through her work at START.  Janelle commenced work as a Speech Language Therapist (SLT) at START in 2009. She had previously worked as a SLT with the Ministry of Education.  Her clinical focus at START has been mostly with pre-schoolers and school age children who stutter. She has also facilitated group programmes for people who stutter.

As Janelle’s wider interests and abilities in management and leadership became apparent, she moved into a promotion, management and leadership role while maintaining her clinical practice.  To support this new work Janelle undertook part time study in the Graduate Diploma in Not for Profit Management through Unitec which she completed in 2017. The course not only provided general learning but was also organised in such a way that Janelle was able to apply that learning directly to START.  Over recent years, as Janelle has developed strong leadership and management skills she has used these to the benefit of START, enabling its development as an organisation, while always keeping START’s client’s needs as paramount and a primary focus.

At the April Board meeting Janelle was presented with flowers to mark the occasion and her key role in START’s development.  Board members expressed their gratitude and acknowledged her diverse contributions to START, which is the only New Zealand specialist service for people who stutter. Janelle was also warmly applauded by the Board.

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Chair Eric Allan spoke of Janelle’s warm and generous heart for all those affected by stuttering.  Her heart has always been evident and underpinned all of her work at START. He also acknowledged her work with clients – many of whom have spoken of how much they have valued her support and clinical work.  Eric also paid tribute to how Janelle’s leadership and management have enabled START to develop to the point that it now plays a pivotal role in improving services for people who stutter. Eric spoke of how fortunate START is to have a person in the Executive Director role who is not only a highly regarded clinician but also a respected and able leader and manager.

In response, Janelle spoke of how fortunate she was to have the role of Executive Director of START and thanked the Board for their acknowledgement and for their strong support.  She acknowledged the role of the Board in supporting her study for the Graduate Diploma. She spoke of how much she had benefited from that study but even more importantly, how she has been able to use it for the benefit of START and its clients.  Janelle spoke of how excited she is by START’s progress and looks forward to it making even more progress in the future. Janelle will shortly attend the Fourth Croatia Stuttering Symposium in May which, having been at START for ten years will be a very good way to support further her work and the work of START.

A big thank you to all our supporters

Here at START we are so grateful for the support we receive from you all. Every blog you read, Facebook post you like, and email you open is appreciated by all of us; staff and Board alike. We also greatly appreciate the support of old friends of START, being people who supported us for many years as Board members, volunteers, past team members and past clients.

In the past year in particular, we’ve also found ourselves fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of many generous donations. We understand that donating your money to START is a deeply personal way to support our work and we appreciate every contribution.

To extend our thanks to as many as possible we invited our supporters to come and meet us, hear from our SLTs and clients and meet some of the Board. We wanted a mix and mingle and also for you to be able to enjoy a tour of our building.

We had a fantastic time meeting you all and valued the opportunity to show you how much we appreciate your support.

Voon Pang, one of our SLTs, found it was “wonderful to connect with people who have been part of START’s journey, either those who were staff or board members of START or past clients or family members of clients. It reminded me of the special work we do. As a speech language therapist who predominantly does clinical work, it is reinvigorating to stay connected with the wider community to remind myself that what I do doesn’t just help the individual in front of me, but rather makes a difference to our society as a whole. Thank you!”

You, our supporters, help us in so many ways. Your support stretches so much further than a simple donation, which helps people who stutter; your support in whatever form it takes encourages us all, particularly our SLTs.

Eric Allan, our Board Chair says “I was struck by the real sense of community and warmth in the room on both occasions. People were keen to talk with each other and come together around the cause and the journey of START. Most of the people cared deeply for people who stutter. Most had a profound understanding of some of the common effects of stuttering on people’s lives and thus had a profound understanding of the importance of the work we do at START.”

We are grateful for all of the support we receive, and all the different ways in which we receive that support and encouragement. Thank you to everyone who came to one of our Supporter Functions, and if you would like to join with helping to support the work we do here at START, you can do so via Givealittle.

Introducing our newest Speech Language Therapist

We would like to welcome our new Speech Language Therapist (SLT) – Beth Laurenson – to the team at START.

Voon Pang has taken on a new role at the University of Auckland this year, supervising Speech Language Therapy students, which means he has reduced one of his days at START.  Janelle Irvine is busy in her role as Executive Director with the development of our organisation, and as a result we were in need of an additional Speech Language Therapist.

We are excited about the growth of the START team.  Having Beth join us ensures we can reach as many people who stutter as possible.

Beth is a highly motivated Speech Language Therapist, experienced in working with children, teenagers and their whanau. Beth previously worked for a private practice, which provided a range of services to children and teenagers in Auckland. She has a keen interest in working with people of all ages who stutter.

Beth is looking forward to specialising in the treatment of stuttering as she commences work two days a week at START. She loves what she does and is committed to providing the best possible service for people who stutter.  

Beth will be working alongside our SLT team of Anna Hearne, Voon and Janelle for the next few months as she develops her skills in working with people who stutter. Our SLT team are looking forward to supporting Beth’s development as our newest stuttering specialist.

So what motivated Beth to specialise in working with people who stutter?

“I was excited when I saw the advertisement for the role at START as I have had a keen interest in the area of stuttering since Anna Hearne’s classes at Massey University.  I particularly enjoy working with older school age children and teenagers. I’m really looking forward to working with people who stutter as I see this as an area where speech language therapists can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Welcome to the START team Beth!

Why don’t I stutter when I speak with an accent?

Why speaking differently can make your stutter disappear

If you are a person who stutters, you may or may not have noticed that when you put on an accent, or deliberately speak differently to how you might usually speak, that your stutter is less evident, or has even disappeared completely!

This is a well-known anomaly, and was even documented on The Project last year, by a Rotorua man who discovered he no longer stuttered when he spoke in an Irish accent.

Although it is common for people who stutter to experience this, and it’s known to occur, there is still little conclusive information as to why it happens.

Last year, we discussed why you don’t stutter when you sing, and you’ll find that the information regarding these two phenomena is fairly similar. Both singing and putting on an accent are different ways to change your voice and how you sound.

This might not sound all that linked to stuttering, however there are a few reasons why it is believed to affect how you talk.

Accents make you use your brain and mouth differently

stuttering and singingThere has been some research on the phenomenon, with The University of Iowa concluding 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).”

It could potentially be understood that this is similar to what is happening when you put on an accent.

Another theory, is that you are using your mouth and vocal cords differently when you put on an accent. Accents, like singing, require us to make different shapes and pronounce words differently to how we might usually. When putting on an accent, you may have to emphasise sounds and letters differently to your normal way of speaking, and as a result you may find this reduces your stutter.

So why not put on an accent all the time?

If you are a person who stutters, who has found that putting on an accent reduces your stutter, you might be considering speaking in an accent for the rest of your life. However, as a long-term solution this isn’t something our Speech Language Therapists necessarily encourage.

This is for two main reasons:

The first, is that as you use the accent more and more, this will become your normal speaking voice, and therefore the reduction in stuttering may not last in the long term.

The second reason, is that not only is it unreasonable to expect someone can put on an accent 24/7 in order to mask their stutter, it’s ultimately masking who they are.

Your stutter is part of who you are, and while an Irish accent might be fun every now and then, unless you are Irish then this accent is not part of who you are.

We know it’s been said many times before, but be yourself!

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?

is stuttering geneticAnna 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.

Group therapy

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