Best-selling author donates portion of book sales to celebrate International Stuttering Awareness Day

Motivational speaker, entrepreneur gives back to UAlberta's ISTAR for helping her speak again

Amanda McCarthy - 21 October 2016

If you asked Zaheen Nanji to describe how she felt every time she found herself in a difficult speaking engagement, she would tell you that she wished for the Earth to open up and swallow her whole. The international motivational speaker and entrepreneur had a stutter.

The keyword here being 'had.' Today, Nanji uses her voice, and the written word, to guide others in their journey to a successful life. In celebration of International Stuttering Awareness Day on Oct. 22, the best-selling author of The Resilience Reflex - 8 Keys to Transforming Barriers into Success in Life and Business is donating $10 from the sale of every print book to the University of Alberta's Institute of Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR).

She hopes her contributions will bring awareness to stuttering and the work being done at ISTAR, the institute that helped Nanji overcome her stuttering.

"My stutter started around the age of six when I joined four other students in a pilot program where we skipped grade one and went straight into grade two," she explains. "I struggled a lot with my speech, but between the ages of 14 to 18, I learned how to use filler words as substitutes when I spoke to people I knew."

Nanji's stutter was so bad that she refused to talk on the phone. Instead, if she had a question for someone, she would travel all the way to them in order to speak face-to-face. This meant that sometimes she would have to take two different buses just to get where she was going.

"Sometimes, even in-person interactions were difficult. I couldn't go through a drive-thru because I'd take so long to give my order. Instead, I'd have to just go in and point at what I wanted on the menu," she remembers.

Desperate to break the stuttering chains that bound her, a search for a solution began.

At the age of 18, Nanji discovered the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's ISTAR - and for the first time, she felt free.

"I loved my experience with ISTAR and the therapists there. After treatment, I am able to speak more fluently without having to think about what I'm going to say next-what word I'm going to substitute so that my stutter doesn't shine through. That's huge for me."

Thanks to ISTAR, Nanji is now able to talk to others with ease. The UAlberta alumna later became an international motivational speaker and a best-selling author. Her book was published in September 2015 and discusses her journey with stuttering and some of the challenges she faced when opening her wellness centre.

While Nanji was able to find a solution to her speech impairment, there are still over 300,000 Canadians who are affected by stuttering. According to ISTAR, there are studies that indicate that individuals are more likely to have issues with speech if they also have a family member who stutters; however, stuttering can also be a result of environmental factors. Most likely, it is a combination of several different factors, including genetics and environment.

As the root cause of stuttering is still not known, Nanji hopes giving back to research at ISTAR will impact treatment and help more people who stutter.

"If it wasn't for ISTAR, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't have written this book. I may even still have my stutter. I want to give back so that they can continue to help more individuals who are in the same situation I was in some years ago."

For those who are currently experiencing stuttering symptoms, Nanji believes the most important thing is not to give up hope.

"I found a lifeline with ISTAR. But the most important thing was for me to practice my fluency skills and step outside of my comfort zone every day. I had to work really hard, but it was worth it."

If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of stuttering, visit the ISTAR website for more information. To purchase Zaheen Nanji's book visit

To commemorate International Stuttering Awareness Day, share your story using #isad16.