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:

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

speech therapy group stutteringStuttering 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.

The Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust on The Project NZ

Thank you to the wonderful team at The Project, as well as Ethan Findlow who features in the video below about our Intensive Fluency Course. We are so pleased that our July 2018 course was featured over two nights, please view the compilation below and tell us what you think!