Therapy for stuttering still available during the COVID-19 lockdown

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

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

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

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

You may wonder what therapy via Skype looks like.

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

So, just how effective is it?

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

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

Avoidance Reduction Therapy and its uses for people who stutter

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does ARTS look like?

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

Examples of specific goals may be to:

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

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

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.