With the move to Alert Level 4, technology became an essential way to communicate and the only way for those who stutter to access specialist services.

The Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START) has been providing stuttering therapy via Skype for about five years. Fortunately, prior to COVID-19, START’s Speech Language Therapists (SLTs) were already ‘seeing’ approximately 30 percent of their clients via Skype, Zoom or similar platforms, so the move to seeing everyone online was a relatively smooth transition.

Connecting with people via technology has become commonplace for many Kiwis over the last few months. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time when we have so many different devices and apps available that enable us to connect, albeit virtually, with our loved ones, colleagues and clients.

With clinics in Auckland, START only sees a small number of the approximately 1 percent of New Zealanders who stutter. There are still many people who don’t know that START exists, or that they can access their specialist services remotely. In the past some people may have felt uncomfortable about online therapy, but the Level 4 lockdown has proven to many that this option is just as effective.

START’s aspiration is that every person who stutters in New Zealand has access to the specialist support they need. Their hope is that with the increased acceptance and comfort of engaging with people through Skype and Zoom during lockdown, more people who stutter across Aotearoa will see online therapy as a desirable option.

It might be hard to imagine what therapy via Skype or Zoom looks like, given we are so used to establishing a relationship in person.

One of START’s SLTs, Anna Hearne, who is experienced in providing therapy in this way, says, “It’s surprising at first, but actually a session via Skype or Zoom feels just like you’re seeing that person in real life. And if there is one age group that is used to this type of technology it’s school-age children and teens. Especially with the couple of months of online learning they have just experienced”.

But is it effective? Research has shown that therapy for stuttering via Skype or Zoom or similar platforms is just as effective as therapy in person.

Established in 1995, START, a charitable trust, is the only organisation in New Zealand that provides specialist treatment and support for people of all ages who stutter and their families and whānau. Their team of speech language therapists has had the privilege of working with over 2,000 people of all ages who stutter, since they first started providing services over 25 years ago.

So wherever you are in the country and whatever age you are, if you, or someone you know stutters and would like support you can either phone or email one of their friendly team on (09) 579 6775 or support@start.org.nz.

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