Stuttering: Topic of Discussion on this Year’s Australian Speak Easy Association’s Conference [transcript][audio]

Guest: Associate Professor Janet Beilby

Presenter: Tabetha Moreto

Guest Bio: Janet Beilby is an Associate Professor from the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, who runs the largest stuttering treatment clinic in the country will be presenting on interesting and distinct research exploring the quality of life among people who stutter at the 2017 Australian Speak Easy Association’s Conference held in Perth.

Janet Beilby has been a lecturer, researcher and clinician in the field of stuttering for over 30 years. She is well known nationally and internationally and has treated thousands of clients, trained hundreds of students and been awarded over half a million dollars in research funds investigating varying aspects of stuttering disorders.

Segment Overview: In today’s interview, Associate Professor Janet Beilby talks about how stuttering impacts the quality of one’s life which will also be discussed at the 2017 Australian Speak Easy Association’s Conference in Perth.

TRANSCRIPT – Australian Speak Easy Association’s Conference

Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone. Welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Janet Beilby, Associate Professor from the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University who runs the largest stuttering treatment clinic in the country. We’ll be presenting on interesting and distinct research exploring the quality of life among people who stutter at the 2017 Australian Speak Easy Associations Conference. That will be our main topic for today. Without further ado, welcome to the show Janet. I’m so happy you can join us today.

Janet Beilby: Many thanks for this opportunity.

T: Yes, you’re welcome. So Janet, please tell the audience more about yourself and the nature of your work.

J: I’m an Associate Professor and a Speech Pathologist by training. So I guess that bridges two gaps – I’m a researcher and a clinician. And I’ve always been interested in the area of stuttering difficulties or stuttering disorders. We actually have a strong history of stuttering in my partner’s family. So there’s also a personal interest as well. But I started my career looking at the clinical implications for adults with stutter. And I realized, this is a disorder that can affect every aspect of their waking day and it really does have far-reaching consequences. So I thought we must do a better job with early intervention and we can nip this in the bud when the child is little so it doesn’t become practiced and entrenched and create all those psychosocial problems over time. Consequently, we started up the clinic here on campus and it has been running for over 34 years. It’s a very popular clinic and we treat everybody from little years of just starting to stutter right through to senior citizens who’ve been struggling with this disorder all their lives.

T: That sounds excellent. And I agree with you Janet, where you have to intervene as early as possible because when the child grows up with the stutter it becomes more difficult for them to bear it when they become adults.

J: That’s absolutely correct plus unfortunately, society is ill-informed about stuttering. That’s why opportunities such as you interviewing me today is so important, because it’s a chance to just I guess enlighten everybody a bit more about this. There are a lot of misconceptions in the community and a lot of the people we worked with unfortunately children incur bullying and teasing, our adolescents struggle with this, because social repartee is such an important part of them, navigating through those turbulent teenage years. And then into adulthood, we need our fluency desperately to do job interviews, for training and indeed to just go about our working lives. So the impact of it can be very widespread and it doesn’t start off as an emotional issue but they can become emotionally burdensome overtime.

T: Yes that’s true, I agree with you. Now speaking of stuttering, what causes it in the first place?

J: Look, that is a really good question. And I’d like to say, first of all we know what doesn’t cause it. And what doesn’t cause stuttering is poor parenting, emotional trauma, falls, accidents, discipline. It’s not caused by anything in the child’s upbringing or environment. The new research and one that I’m certainly heavily involved with is looking at the genes of stuttering. We’re looking at some DNA markers and we’re able if you like to show in the future, which children have this physiological predisposition for their speech muscles to overload and stumble more easily than others. And if we can identify it really early, those children can benefit from early intervention which of course is going to nip this problem in the bud and stop it from becoming hardwired if you like over time to stutter.

T: Yes, that sounds very interesting because stuttering is something that’s often misunderstood. Some people say it’s caused by like what you mentioned earlier, emotional trauma. Some people think it’s a physical thing. So that’s a good thing with people like you, you’re doing research about stuttering and because of your appearance today on the show, I’m glad that you’re able to share with this new information. That way people can understand more about this condition.

J: That’s exactly right. And if we educate people more, it’s a very interesting topic. Everyone I guess has met someone who stutters, or they see it in the media, the King’s Speech. Megan Washington has done a very wonderful thing and spoken about her journey with her stutter. There’s a very topical area, people are talking about it a lot. Such opportunities as today just allow us to talk about it in an informed way so that we’re not stigmatizing it. We’re not bringing about all of these misconceptions. We’re bringing about the discussion that really highlights that these people are very bright, very normal people, from very bright, very normal families and just going about their business but they do happen to have this tendency for their speech muscles to destabilize or overload or stumble if you like, more easily than Johnny Smith down the road. So it is to all intents and purposes, it’s a fairly clear-cut issue when at first starts but as I said the longer it left, the more the child struggles, the more other children react and people bring their own opinions to be error before you know it we’ve got quite a complicated picture on hand. And the longer it’s left in the person’s system like any health issue, the harder it is for us to shift.

T: Yes, that is very interesting. And I’m surprised that you mentioned the King’s Speech. I watched that movie myself and it’s because of that movie, I actually became interested about stuttering because I was surprised that King George the 6th had that condition, because I wouldn’t have imagined a king like that would have that kind of condition but because of that movie it gave me a perspective and it made me understand more about this condition and I started researching about it a long time ago.

J: Yes and Colin Firth did such an amazing job. I spoke to colleagues of mine in London who actually had original types of King George speech when he was stuttering and Colin Firth tackled it with such fidelity. That it actually mirrors exactly the type of stutter that King George had. And I remember when he was interviewed he said at the end of the acting day he was exhausted. Physically drained and exhausted because stuttering is a physical phenomena so it drained all of his resources. But certainly stuttering is prevalent in families, multi generations and it does appear to be in the royal family, as it is the case for a lot of the families in our clinic as well.

T: Yes, that is interesting. And speaking of King George again, it’s interesting that with his condition like what you mentioned earlier, I want to ask you something related to that. For example if a person has a stutter or if a person stutters, can they pass that condition onto their children?

J: Well it’s not a single gene. So it doesn’t directly pass on because of course the other partner, the other parent presumably brings a robust as against stuttering as with all condition. So it doesn’t guarantee that their offspring are going to stutter, but there is a chance that children born to a parent who stutters will have to condition themselves. Yes, it’s not a guaranteed standpoint but the risk if you like is there. Therefore we talk to people about the signs to look out for if a child is repeating words at the start, if it’s worse when they’re excited or when they’re tired, when they’re in the competition load, often they repeat certain words, or the personal pronouns for example the ‘I’ and the ‘you.’ “You you do it for me mummy”, that sort of thing. If they’re asking questions, “Wha-wha-what’s daddy doing?” and sometimes using conjunctions ‘and’ and ‘but’ and ‘cause.’ “But but but it’s my turn, and and you won’t give it to me.” Very often, if you like keywords because they’re the words that a little child will emphasize more. When they push harder in this vulnerable system, that’s on the overloading kicks in more so. And when they’re not pushing hard for example the nursery rhymes, singing, playing by themselves, you often don’t get any examples of it at all. But in face-to-face conversation with an adult, when they’re being quite emphatic, that’s when you do see it highlighted.

T: Yes, it must be very hard for them. And speaking of that, what impact does stuttering have on a person’s quality of life?

J: It can have a very significant impact. The thing about, as I said before about people who stutter, they are no different to you and me. So some of us have an inherent robustness, the resilience and it does seem to be tied to our outlook on life. So the older a person is, the longer they’ve been living with this condition, the more impact it’s going to have. And sometimes adults who stutter, struggle a lot with doing social activities. I’ve had instances where adults who stutter may for example choose items on a menu that they can say rather than those they actually want to eat. I’ve had instances where people who stutter will drive to make appointments rather than try to do it over the phone. So some people can develop a lot of avoidance and a lot of reactions to their speech. What we do in our adult therapy is of course we give them fluency strategies to improve their stutters, but we also work a lot on their quality of life. We encourage them not to be defined by the stutter. There’s so much more than that and we know that the people who are out and about stuttering a bit of course, using some strategies but having a go and staying very active and part of society often their symptoms will improve slightly just because of that level of being in positive engagement. So we’re looking holistically at the problem much more we used to just focus on the stutter. Now we realized the person is more important than just how they sound.

T: Yes, that’s true. And speaking of parents, how do parenting styles differ among parents of children who stutter and parents of children who don’t stutter?

J: Well the parenting styles themselves actually don’t differ. But some parents do react more fearfully, with more anxiety, sometimes with guilt, certainly always with concern. And the degree of that, again, reflects just more about the person rather than the stutter per se. What we like to do is reassure parents that early intervention can be very effective and the therapy that we adopt here in the Curtin University Stuttering Treatment Clinic that gets very good results is just tapping into the parent’s natural parenting skills. We encourage them to treat this the same way that they would treat any other harmless behavior they didn’t want the child perpetuating with. Parents are very good and they’re very intuitive in helping their child through struggled moments, helping teach them how to do things well and correctly, how to keep that encouragement going, trying, moving forward and we actually harness all that and just really encourage a parent to follow their instincts with our guidance of course, to actually address this stutter very directly and very simply but ultimately very successfully over time.

T: That sounds very interesting. And speaking of stuttering, what are the available treatments for it aside from the traditional speech therapy? Are there any other treatments for it?

J: We like you to go to a speech pathologist who specializes in stuttering because that person has the most up-to-date knowledge. We know that speech pathologists are very well equipped to assess and to diagnose this problem accurately and then avail the person of a range of treatment options. It’s always better to explain what can be done and then negotiate and set goals with the client themselves. So that things aren’t imposed on the person but rather they can see the theory and the science behind it. Technology is improving all the time. There are apps that people can use and practice controlling their speech with a slower rate, with a more melodic flow to their voice, there are tempering measures of course but again a qualified speech pathologists can help them with these opportunities. The Stuttering Awareness Day on Sunday is an International Day. There’s a lot of online discussions, a lot of opportunity for people to log on, find out more about this disorder and then certainly find out where the resources are, that they can be helped locally. There’s a lot of good news stories. We’re finding more and more about this disorder every day and breaking a lot of the old unhelpful misconceptions about this disorder. And in doing so we’re giving a lot more people hope. It’s a really a very good news story as I said before.

T: Yes, thank you for your advice. And speaking of misconceptions, are there other misconceptions about stuttering that you want to clear up on the show today?

J: Yes. I just want people to know that individuals who stutter are no different to them. Some of the strategies that we suggest people try when someone is stuttering is to just be patient and give them time because of course they will get the words out eventually. And we’re all time-poor, we live in a very fast-paced society. But it’s very helpful to just stay naturally comfortable with the person, just maintain eye contact, don’t talk over them necessarily, don’t try and second-guess what they’re saying, just make them feel supported, encouraged and they will get the message out, very successfully. So my advice to anybody is just follow your instincts. If you know the person really well, feel free to ask them. Other techniques that they may prefer for you to use and help that person. Otherwise as I said just be patient, give them time and treat them with integrity and respect as you would like to be treated yourselves.

T: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much Janet. And before we go, what is your main takeaway message to all of our listeners out there?

J: My main takeaway message is stuttering isn’t anything to be fearful of. It can be treated. There are new treatments that are very successful and particularly, seek help early. For a parent who may have any questions about their child’s speech development, please go and talk to someone. Don’t wait, don’t listen to misguided advice such as it’s developmental, they all do it, they’ll grow out of it. That may not be the case. And the sooner we can help the child and the parent to manage their speech development positively, the quicker this is going to be resolved.

T: Thank you very much for that wonderful message. And our last question for the day, for those interested in participating in the 2017 Australian Speak Easy Associations Conference – how can they get in touch with you guys?

J: We welcome that. We still have positions available. We have a wonderful international speaker Professor Scott Yaruss who’s come from Michigan State University, a very dynamic speaker. He’s done a lot of work in quality of life assessment of people who stutter, a very positive man. He’s one of the keynote speakers. I’m one of the keynote speakers. Charn Nang from Edith Cowan University as a keynote speaker, as well as consumers themselves. People who are living with this disorder. They’re going to have an opportunity to share their stories, their successes, their insights. We have a lot of people coming to talk about managing anxiety, how to cope well in the workplace. So there’s something for everybody at this conference. It’s not a rigorous scientific conference. It’s a conference for the general public and for families and for professionals and students. If they go to the Speak Easy Association of Australia, and do a search on Speak Easy Conference or Convention 2017, it will give them the links. And it’s being run over three days here in Perth – all day Friday, all day Saturday, and half of Sunday. There are concessions available and we really are running this as an opportunity to coincide with the World Stuttering Awareness Day on Sunday and for people to come along and just learn more about it and meet people, meet some really fine interesting individuals. And as I said, just have an opportunity to reflect on this and absorb all of the good news and information that people are sharing.

T: Excellent. Thank you so much Janet for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it.

J: Thank you for this opportunity. Many thanks indeed.

T: And that was Associate Professor Janet Beilby from Curtin University. We’ve just been talking about the effects of stuttering that it has on a person’s quality of life. We also talked about the upcoming 2017 Australia Speak Easy Association Conference. If you liked this interview, transcripts and archives are available at We’re on all social media platforms, so don’t forget to follow, like and subscribe. We’re also available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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