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.

5 ways to help someone who stutters

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

Support and therapy - mentoring

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

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

  1. Don’t tell them how to stop stuttering

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

  1. Don’t make jokes about stuttering

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

  1. Let them know you are here to talkis there a cure for stuttering

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

  1. Stand up for them

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

  1.  Stand with them

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

Stuttering vs stammering – what’s the difference?

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

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

There is no difference – sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(although we’d appreciate that too!)

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

1 . Volunteer your time

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

  1. Volunteer your expertise

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

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

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

  1. Share your story

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

  1. Spread the word

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

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

Why don’t we stutter when we sing?

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

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

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

Singing occurs in a different part of the brain:

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

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

We use our vocal cords and mouths differently when singing:

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

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

Singing is a different form of communication than most speaking:

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

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

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

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

What does a donation to our charity do?

If you’ve ever thought about donating to a charity or a cause, it’s likely you’ve also then wondered about where that money goes. This is a pretty fair question – you’ve worked hard for your money and you want to know that you’re making it go as far as it can.

For many charities, it’s difficult to track where the money goes or how it’s used – and in some unfortunate cases, donations go towards things the donor didn’t want.

We’re proud to say this isn’t how we work at START

As a registered charity, we rely on grants, funding, and donations to help us run, and we are fully transparent about where that money goes.

After operational costs such as rent, salaries, and other important factors, the money we receive goes towards making sure every person in New Zealand who stutters is able to access treatment. While we do have a $60/$45 fee for our sessions, we have a subsidy plan and sliding scale in place as an option for those who find the cost difficult.

The truth is, even though $60/$45 sounds like a lot, to truly cover our costs we would need to charge at least $100 per session. This is something we don’t want to do!

It is so important to us that every Kiwi who stutters has access to the treatment they need, and cost should not be a barrier to receiving support. In fact, we would really like to be in the position one day where we can offer our services for free to everyone.

To get to that point however, we need more support, and donating to our charity is a great way to help us achieve this goal. It costs approximately $1,000 for a preschool child to receive treatment for their stuttering, and if you were to donate even a portion of that, you would be making a massive difference in that child’s life – for their whole life.

Your donation could make a real difference in the lives of Kiwis who stutter, and it would make sure that your hard earned money goes as far as shaping a child’s entire life.

To make a donation today, head to our givealittle page and make a difference.

It’s not all about individual therapy

Why we run groups and courses in conjunction with treatment

Over the years we’ve stopped and started our groups and courses while we worked to find the best fit for our clients, but for the past 5 years we’ve really found our feet in terms of what works best. As someone who stutters, or a parent of a child who stutters, you might wonder why we recommend groups and courses in conjunction or even instead of individual therapy – and which option is best for your circumstances.

The groups and courses we run cover a wide range of topics and age groups and include:

Confident Communicators Group

  • Suitable for children aged 7-10
  • Includes 4 sessions over the course of the year
  • Is a fantastic opportunity for kids to meet others in their age group who also stutter and to make lifelong friends
  • An enjoyable way for children to explore their stutter and how it affects them

Fluency and Confidence Course

  • Suitable for children  aged 11-13
  • Is a 3 day course
  • Provides techniques to manage stuttering
  • Is a fantastic opportunity for kids to meet others in their age group who also stutter and to make lifelong friends

Intensive Fluency Course

  • We hold separate courses for teens and adults
  • Run as a 5 day intensive course
  • Provides techniques to manage stuttering and improve confidence
  • Offers the opportunity to meet others who stutter in a supportive environment

As you can see, there’s a wide variety for everyone, and while the main theme of each is to improve confidence as well as understand speech techniques to manage stuttering, what we’ve found is most valuable with these groups and courses is the social aspect.

Studies, as well as our own observations, have shown that stuttering can be a deeply isolating experience, and that the opportunity to have supportive and relatable interactions can be hugely beneficial for a person who stutters.

The groups and courses offer the opportunity for the person who stutters to be able to meet others like them, and understand their own experiences a bit better. Finding someone who relates to you and who you relate to in return is an invaluable experience for anyone, and this is no different for someone who stutters.

We also run social days for our younger clients, and a mentoring programme for adults looking for a supportive learning relationship with a peer. If you or someone you know could benefit from the social and supportive aspects of our groups and courses, please get in contact with us and we would love to help.

Community is key

Although stuttering affects only 1% of the population, that still means nearly 15,000 people in Auckland alone have a stutter. Nevertheless, many of the people we work with tell us they have never met anyone else who stutters.

What we’ve noticed from many of our youth events in particular, is that one of the most successful aspects of a community or group event is that people who stutter can meet other people just like them. Meeting someone who can relate to you has a massively positive effect for stutterers, and can be the start of lifelong, supportive friendships.

A supportive community doesn’t have to be one that also stutters however, and it’s important that friends, family, and colleagues of a person who stutters understand what stuttering is, and how they can be supportive.

People who stutter needn’t be coddled or handheld, they are often confident and expressive people with many great opinions just like everyone else – but a negative or unsupportive community can be a huge hindrance.

If you are someone who stutters and you’ve found that people around you:

  • Talk over you
  • Finish your sentences
  • Make you feel a sense of urgency, like you need to hurry your speech
  • Or generally don’t make you feel comfortable talking

There is a chance they may not know how to handle a situation with ease. If they care about you, they will be eager to know what it is they are doing that is unhelpful, and what they can do to help – so let them know.

Only through educating as many people as we can about stuttering can we really create a world that is supportive and understands what stuttering is and how they can help.

Don’t be afraid to correct people, and tell them how you feel, so that you can find a community of people that supports you.

Why mental health should be a focus for people who stutter

Mental health is an important issue for everyone, and something everyone should be actively working to improve and look after for themselves – but it’s even more important for those who have disorders that may cause certain emotions and have various negative effects on their self-esteem or outlook.

Today kicks of Mental Health Awareness Week, and to do our bit for the New Zealand community, we’ll be looking at why people who stutter can often have mental health issues, as well as advice for how to combat this.

Here at START we firmly believe that those who stutter can be just as confident and outgoing as those who don’t, and we’ve seen many wonderful clients who have gone on to have amazing careers in the spotlight, whether that be on the stage, in debates, or as strong speakers in their industry. Stuttering is a disorder that stems from the neural processing area of the brain that controls speech – it has no effect on a person’s intelligence.

Nevertheless, for many people who stutter it can feel daunting to speak, and many social scenarios are made difficult – and this can have an adverse effect on mental health. Anxiety is a common issue for people who stutter, who may find speaking causes anxiety and stress, which can often exacerbate into wider issues. Anxiety and depression often follow each other, and when either goes unchecked things can become serious.

For people who stutter, and the people who know them, it’s important to foster an environment that encourages personal expression and communication. If you know someone who stutters it’s important you don’t speak over them, try to finish their sentences for them, or generally appear hurried for them to finish what they are saying. Actions such as these can worsen anxiety and make communicating an unpleasant experience for the person who stutters.

If you yourself stutter, let people know about resources they can look into that will help them understand better. Sharing this blog post on Facebook is a great start, and bringing it up in conversation can help people who care about you to understand what is appropriate and helpful.

It’s also important to look after yourself, and pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you are starting to feel anxious – which comes in many forms, but can manifest in shaking hands, tight chest, fast heartbeat, uncommon breathing, or fidgetiness and a lack of concentration – then it’s important to speak to your speech language therapist or your GP about how you can combat this. Seeking help can be daunting, but anxiety often goes hand in hand with stuttering so it should be looked after as well. As anxiety can often lead to depression it’s important to take necessary steps to look after yourself.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and if you need anyone to speak to then please don’t hesitate to call the following hotlines, or look into the following websites:

Lifeline0800 543 354

Youthline0800 376 633

Samaritans0800 726 666

Why are males more likely to stutter?

This question comes up fairly regularly, and because so little is understood about the definitive cause of stuttering, it’s often difficult to know why it is more common among males.

is there a cure for stuttering

What we do know about stuttering is that it affects 1% of the population – an amount that sounds small, but really isn’t. In fact this means that there are almost 15,000 people who stutter in Auckland alone – that’s quite a lot of people actually!

Beyond this hard fact, there is a lot about stuttering that is not known for certain. It is thought that it is a disorder that is rooted in the neural processing area of the brain that controls speech production. There is often a genetic link, with stuttering running in families, and it is also more common in children.  Many children who stutter as pre-schoolers will grow out of it without any help, others will need therapy to help with their stutter, and then there are those who will continue to stutter throughout their lives.

Something that we do know is that stuttering is statistically more common among males, although it is not fully understood why. Stuttering affects men four times more than it affects women, which is a pretty big difference.

It has long been suspected that the number of female adults who stutter is significantly lower because they have a higher chance of natural recovery at a young age – this seems to be supported by research done by the University of Illinois Stuttering Research Program. This research showed that girls were more likely to naturally recover or grow out of stuttering without therapy (although this was not the case with every child), whereas boys were less likely to. This clearly indicates the importance of seeking therapy as soon as possible to assess the risks and likelihood of future chronic stuttering.

is stuttering genetic

Stuttering that is genetic (because not all cases are genetic) is also more likely to confirm the gender bias, whereas those cases which are not related to genetics have less of a gender disparity. Another interesting statistic to acknowledge is “for men who stuttered, 9% of their daughters and 22% of their sons will be stutterers; while for the fewer women who ever stuttered the risks are higher, as 17% of their daughters and 36% of their sons will be affected.”

Although there is no hard evidence to tell us why males are more likely to stutter, what we do know is that early access to treatment is the best way to ensure your child – boy or girl – is able to have their stuttering assessed by a trained professional who can advise you on future steps.

If your child is stuttering – web-browsing and asking friends what to do may cause more stress and confusion than need be; it is best you seek professional advice first on where to go from here.