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.

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. 

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!

Cheers,
Felix
#keepcalmandstutteron


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

What is a stutter? Common myths and misunderstandings.

Debunking common myths around stuttering

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

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

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

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

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

What causes it?

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

Is there a cure?

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

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

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

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

Stuttering is caused by emotional or physical trauma or stress

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

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

Stuttering and stammering are two different things

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


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

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

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!

Is stuttering genetic?

For the most part.

We know that’s not the most clear answer, however stuttering is quite a complicated condition that experts still don’t know everything about – as a result, answers to seemingly simple questions can be quite lengthy.

When people discuss genetics, they often are asking if there is one single gene that dictates whether a person stutters, is deaf, has blue eyes etc and if these genes are passed down among relatives. However, genetics is far more complicated than that, and often there are numerous – if not hundreds – of genes that dictate even the smallest of attributes. And of course, not all personal attributes are related to genetics.

However, when it comes to stuttering, what we know is that in most? – but not all – instances, stuttering is genetic, in that it was passed down through family members.

In what situations does this happen?

is stuttering geneticAnna Hearne, our Massey University -based Speech Language Therapist says “children who stutter often have a family history of stuttering however the relationship between genetics and stuttering is far from clear. About 70% of those who stutter have a family history of stuttering, so a family history isn’t necessary for stuttering to develop. There are even cases of identical twins, who share the same genetic material, where one twin stutters and the other doesn’t.”

If you are person who stutters, then there is approximately a 70% chance that there is a person in your family who also stutters. However your stutter may not necessarily look (or sound) identical to theirs. Simply because they are more likely to stutter with certain words, letters, or sounds, or their stutter involves prolonged sounds or repetitions, does not mean that your stutter will also resemble this.

Another factor that makes the genetics of stuttering complicated, is that it seems to differ amongst men and women. The fact that stuttering is more likely to happen to males is something well-documented, and which we’ve discussed before, however, this ratio is far different if it is an inherited stutter. If there is a relative who stutters, then the case of inherited stuttering becomes 1 female to every 1.5 males, as opposed to 1 female to every 7 or 8 males.

This only serves to complicate the matter, and there is still plenty of research to be done around this.

Group therapy

Regardless, there is one thing we would like to make clear, which is that the fact that stuttering runs in families is due to genetics and not because stuttering is contagious or children are learning to stutter by copying a family member. Sometimes parents of children who stutter ask whether it’s possible that their child is subconsciously copying another person who stutters, but this is absolutely not true.

If you or someone in your family is a person who stutters, we welcome you to get in touch with us to find out how we can support you.

International Stuttering Awareness Day – What I Wish People Knew About Stuttering

This years theme for International Stuttering Awareness Day is ‘Speak Your Mind’.
We spent time during our Teen Fluency Course follow up day brainstorming with the teens and student helpers what we wish people knew about stuttering.
There are a lot of myths and preconceived ideas about stuttering, but in this video, you might learn something new.
If you would like to help our organisation this International Stuttering Awareness Day, please share this video with your friends and family, or you can donate at:
https://givealittle.co.nz/donate/org/startnz

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!