Celebrating the Unsung Heroes: A Teacher’s Impact on My Journey

To celebrate Teacher’s Day (October 5th) this year, we have a story we’d like to share with you which demonstrates the impact teachers can have on our lives. Recently, Zheen Abdullazada shared with us a pivotal moment in her teenage years that has had a lasting impact and we’d like to share it with you.

“As a little girl, I dreamt of becoming a lawyer. I was a talkative kid and my family never made me feel there was something ‘wrong’ with me so I didn’t know I had a ‘stutter’ until I started school – when peers started bullying me for something I didn’t understand.

I remember feeling like I couldn’t be a lawyer because I thought I sounded stupid and incoherent when I talked. Despite the challenges of public speaking, I didn’t shy away from raising my hand in class or giving speeches, even though my stutter made these experiences daunting. Sometimes, I would stutter for minutes on a word and my throat would physically hurt.

It wasn’t until my Year 12 English teacher, Mrs Taylor, took me aside one day and told me about START. In January 2015, when I was 16 years old, I attended a week-long course specifically for teenagers who stutter. This connected me with a group of incredible young people. Together we formed deep bonds and learnt invaluable information about stuttering and useful speech techniques that I still use to this day. I owe my accomplishments to Mrs Taylor and START – without them, I wouldn’t have the tools, confidence and support to pursue my dreams.

It’s easy for someone with a stutter to allow it to dictate their life and choices – START encourages and fosters the opposite. The course I attended at START during those important years at high school transformed my life. It taught me how to ‘manage’ my stutter instead of letting it ‘control’ me and I’ve never forgotten that it’s all thanks to Mrs Taylor for letting me know about START in the first place.

Fast forward to 2023 – I’m now 24 years old and recently graduated from the University of Auckland with a Conjoint Law and Arts Degree, double majoring in Politics and International Relations, and Criminology. I’ve just finished my professional legal studies course and I work as a litigation lawyer for a law firm in Tāmaki Makarau. I’ve recently joined the START Board as a Shadow Board Member so that I can learn how a Board works and give back to the organisation that’s given so much to me.

When I look at all of these accomplishments I’m brought back to that moment at high school where Mrs Taylor took the time to connect with me on a deeper level, and got me the help I needed – a great teacher can have a life changing impact”.

Zheen Abdullazada

We know and appreciate the impact teachers can have. With many more stories just like Zheen’s, we know how helpful supportive teachers can be in the lives of young people who stutter.

Brush up on your knowledge about stuttering and how to support students who stutter in our FREE Teachers Resource here, or check out our page specifically for teachers to learn more about stuttering here.

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 support@start.org.nz we can forward your email on to him.

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.

YES! I would like to support START with a donation!
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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. 

Felix celebrates International Stuttering Awareness Day by educating his colleagues

Last Tuesday was International Stuttering Awareness Day and one of our clients, Felix, decided to send an email out to all his work colleagues to “put himself out there a bit more and to raise awareness”. We think this was a wonderfully proactive step on Felix’s part. He received some great feedback from his colleagues including how brave he was for sharing his story and they really appreciated his honesty. Here at START, we know that being open about stuttering can be scary but also liberating and it can also help to alleviate some of the anxiety and fear that comes with hiding stuttering. Being open about the fact you stutter is also a great opportunity to educate people about stuttering. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Felix and allowing us to share it with the wider START community.

Kia Ora,

As most of you already know or might find out now… I am a person who stutters. I have stuttered since I can remember and have seen many Speech Language Therapists throughout my life. Being able to communicate and participate in life is easily something that most of us take for granted but can seem like a massive obstacle for a person who stutters.

Unfortunately, there is very little awareness but quite a few myths and misconceptions out there about stuttering. The best way to tackle these myths and misconceptions and consequently live a happier and fuller life as a person who stutters is to start conversations, raise awareness and communicate openly about stuttering to normalise and de-stigmatise.

So…why do we hear/know so little about stuttering? Well, stuttering is invisible until you hear
someone speak and people who stutter are masters of disguise which can leave other people in their life completely unaware of their stutter. People who stutter have learned ways/strategies or adapted to lifestyles (usually avoiding words or situations or even saying nothing at all) which allows them to hide their stutter. These behaviours can be driven by feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, fear of judgment, low self-esteem, anxiety, experiences of discrimination and bullying, etc. This has huge impact on the quality of a person’s life and their well-being.

Stuttering is not a physical or cognitive disability. Stuttering is not a reflection of a person’s
intelligence. Trust me, a person who stutters knows exactly what they want to say, they just find it difficult to get the words out sometimes. This goes beyond the hesitation or repetition everyone experiences sometimes when speaking. In fact, people who stutter often bring very valuable strengths and qualities to the table, such as resilience, empathy, compassion, listening skills and creativity. Some of the brainiest and most famous people in this world stutter/stuttered, e.g. Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Bruce Willis, Elvis Presley, Ed Sheeran, Tiger Woods, etc.

Personally, I think my stutter is here to stay despite the support I have received throughout my life. I am not at peace with my stutter. It is omnipresent in my life and I am still on my journey of acceptance. But I try to look at stuttering from different perspectives. I believe stuttering has shaped me, helped me grow, formed the person I am today and has created/opened opportunities for me which might have not presented itself if I did not have a stutter.

So…I am sending this email to raise awareness and start conversations. Here are some facts about stuttering:
– Stuttering affects 1% of the entire population.
– There are more than 45,000 people in beautiful Aotearoa who stutter.
– People who stutter are no more or less intelligent than people who do not stutter.
– Stuttering affects four times as many males as females.
– There is no “cure” for stuttering but treatment to help a person who stutters to say what they want to say.
– Genetics are involved in the cause of stuttering, which means there can be more than one family member who stutters.
– People do not stutter when they sing – it is not entirely understood why.
– People who stutter often do so on the words that carry the most important meaning in a sentence or if a specific response is needed, such as saying one’s name in a meeting or phone call.

And how can you support a person who stutters? Well here are some tips:
– Be patient. Don’t finish the sentence or word, this can be very disempowering and unhelpful, especially if the listener guesses wrongly.
– Be a good listener. Focus on what the person is saying, not how they are saying it.
– Remember that stuttering varies. Don’t be surprised if a person stutters more in some situations than others, such as using the telephone, speaking in front of a group, introductions, etc.
– Remember it is OK to stutter. Don’t give advice such as “slow down” or “take a breath”. Maintain natural eye contact and wait patiently until the person has finished speaking.
– If you are not sure how to respond, ask the speaker. This might involve asking if there’s anything you can do to make it easier.

This email is only a snapshot to give a brief insight and raise awareness of a topic which is very close to my heart and affects a lot of people. Please don’t be shy if you want to find out more about stuttering. I also have some resources if wanted. I am always happy to have a chat. You know where to find me…

Happy International Stutter Awareness Day everyone!


*Photo featured is a stock image, not an image of Felix

Speaking on the international stage as a person who stutters

Phyllis shares her experience speaking at International Stuttering Association’s World Congress 2019

In July 2019, Phyllis Edwards travelled to Iceland to attend the International Stuttering Association’s World Congress 2019.  The theme was Embrace Your Stutter

Phyllis lives in Paraparaumu on the Kapiti coast just outside of Wellington, and first made contact with START last year.  She works for Castle Kids Kapiti and is very keen to share her story of growing up with a stutter in order to help others (particularly women) on their own stuttering journey.  She has kindly offered to share with us her experience of speaking at an open microphone session at the World Congress. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we have.

Thanks so much Phyllis for sharing so openly and honestly with us all.

Here I am sitting in the second row from the front in the Ork Hotel Conference Room feeling both excited, nervous and blessed that I got here. I am glad I hadn’t managed to talk myself out of it like part of me had tried to do.

In fact, I did quite a bit to try and prevent my being here. First, I had sent an email to Gina, our travel agent saying “Please tell me it is not possible for Donald and I to go to Iceland”.  Gina, unfortunately, emailed back saying “Phyllis it is very possible”. Then, as we were going in to our annual bank review the ever-supportive Donald said “Phyllis I am going to ask to put the money for the trip on to our mortgage.” “No“ I protested. “Yes” said Donald “I believe in you.”

Try as I might to self-sabotage, I still made it to Iceland.

At least I was dressed for success. I was wearing a comfortable top given to me by our manager Tess, designer undies made with love from my trusty YouTube friend Lauren, and jeans from my friend and ex-supervisor Karen. My plan was if I wore clothes from people who believed in me, I would believe in myself too.

Then it all began.

The woman hosting the session said Anita Blom (international speaker, person who stutters, and my own mentor), would be sharing her keynote address after the open mic. Two people who I thought were amazingly brave got up and spoke. Then I heard the host offer one more chance for people to speak during this open mic session.  “Who would like to speak” she asked.

My hand (that is known for having a mind of its own) shot up and I heard this voice calling out “Me, me please my turn”. The woman smiled, and held the microphone out as I rushed up. I opened my mouth and I heard this person saying “Hello, my name is Phyllis Edwards from New Zealand. Thank you for having me.” I then heard a fluent voice talking over me – I realized it was me speaking. “Oh no,” I thought, “What do I do now if my mouth won’t work?”

Suddenly I had this picture in my mind of the friends I knew were supporting me back home. I
thought of Alexis Parker, my adopted English sister who also stutters, Janelle from START, who I am proud to be affiliated with, and Anita Blom who had mentored me and suggested it was my turn to pay it forward. She mentioned this after I contacted her when returning from the British Stammering Association national Conference held in Cardiff Wales. That time I had left feeling disappointed in myself for not speaking during the open mic session. But not this time.

This time I felt strong and supported and wanted to do this for me and for others. I started sharing about my mum telling me my dad would come back if I talked properly, and about thinking I had a ‘tongue monster’ in my throat.  I was able to share about being lucky enough to have been able to follow my dream of being an Early Childhood Teacher with a stutter. My story came flooding out of me.

I finished by sharing how at age 65 I realized that if I hadn’t had a stutter, my life may have gone in a completely different direction.  I would not have amazing supportive close friendships, be in a job I loved where children and parents accepted me. These children have touched my heart and have taught me having a stutter didn’t matter. They have showed and taught me love, acceptance, and generosity by building these relationships with me. Also, it’s worth noting that without my stutter I might not be the interesting, quirky, prank-playing wife, mother, and friend I am today.”

And just like that, I thrust the microphone back into the host’s hand afterwards. All I wanted was to sit back down, curl up in my seat and listen to Anita’s keynote address. It seemed like it all went quiet, but then I heard what I thought was an earthquake. There was lots of noise, and I remember thinking “Oh that’s me! I have caused an earthquake or broken something!” I remember clutching the hands of the woman sitting next to me and then I slowly realized people were clapping and cheering and I saw some people standing up in my row. ‘’

It was awe-inspiring. Dropping back down into my seat, I was still quietly crying, feeling
overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to share my story, and overcoming my fear of standing up there with that microphone.

All at once I felt humble, lighter, healed, and relieved that I hadn’t broken anything or caused an earthquake.

If sharing my story can help just one young woman realise what I have realised at an earlier age than me, then to have a stutter may not be such a bad thing.

We couldn’t be more proud of you Phyllis, and we know the strength of your story has the power to change the lives of people who stutter.

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.

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!

Reflecting on 2017 – Merry Christmas from START!

This year has been a big year for START! We’ve had lots of opportunities to help people across New Zealand who stutter and it’s been a wonderful journey – thanks for being there with us the whole way!

We’ve found that technology has been a great way for us to reach people , not just those who are Auckland-based, and we can’t wait to continue to see how it will help us grow.

We also published a book! If you haven’t heard yet, for International Stuttering Awareness Day this year, we asked the kids we work with to submit art and writing that discusses their unique experiences as children  who stutter. We received some incredible submissions, and compiled them into a book which you can now purchase! ‘My Stutter’ is a charming little book filled with some amazing pieces on what it’s like to be a Kiwi kid who stutters.  All proceeds go towards supporting us to help those who stutter in New Zealand, and you can pick up your own copy here:

So what is next on our agenda?

Well, firstly it involves a holiday break.  START will be closed from the 21stnd of December until the 9th of January 2018. We’re all looking forward to spending some quality time with our friends and family, and enjoying the Kiwi Summer.

We will also then be closed again from the 18th until the 29th  of January. Why?

2018 involves some big changes and improvements to our organisation – one which we’ve been excited to tell you for a while, and now we finally can!


We’ve loved spending the past 20 years at our site  in Parnell, and we know how convenient the central location has been in the past. However, as Auckland continues to grow and become the bustling metro it’s becoming, START has grown as well.

Travelling across the city is no longer the easy task it once was, and while our Albany clinic has been a great help for many of you, we’re looking to make things even easier for our clients.

This is why, in 2018 we’ll be moving in with The Hearing House at their fantastic new premises in Greenlane! This is a wonderful  opportunity for us to work alongside a similar charity, as well as become more accessible for our clients who might not be as central as they used to be.

We’ll also be looking into establishing more satellite clinics for our clients’ convenience in the future, however we’re firm believers in taking one step at a time!

We will miss our lovely Parnell office, however as the only organisation in New Zealand specialising in helping those who stutter, it’s important that we continue to encourage our charity’s growth as much as possible!

Our new office will be based with The Hearing House at The Stitchbury Bidwill Centre, 251 Campbell Road, Greenlane.which is very close to  the the Greenlane off-ramp. Our clients who live West or North will continue to utilise our Albany  office.

If you’re more of a visual person, hopefully this map helps you!

There will be limited parking available for our clients onsite as well as on-street parks available.

Once again, thank you for joining us on our journey, and thank you for all your support, particularly with our first published book – ‘My Stutter’!

From the entire team here at START, happy holidays! We hope you have a fantastic new year, and can’t wait to see you all in 2018!