Supercharge Your Stuttering…How to live your life in a positive light expressing yourself!

kaufmanAbout the author: Steven Kaufman is a very passionate advocate and activist for people who stutter around the world. He is a motivational speaker and a very active member of the National Stuttering Association, having presented four times at their annual conferences. Steven currently lives in Montgomery County, Md., and works in human resources for the federal government. Steven’s biggest hobbies are promoting stuttering advocacy, karaoke, and being a servant to his domestic shorthaired cat, Lucky.

In the song “Imagine,” John Lennon sang about a world where everyone could live together in universal peace. It was a hopeful vision of what the future might look like. But I imagined a place where I could express myself freely and share my thoughts about what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I would experience the same routines every day. I would open my mouth and freeze, with the “oral vices” clamping down on my vocal chords as harshly as humanly possible. Every Saturday night when my family went out to dinner, I would dread that moment as the server asked me what I wanted, with their pen ready to write…only I knew they would be there for five minutes, if not more. Others would have to wait, and it would be my fault. I would ask to volunteer in classes in high school and junior college, and be the last one chosen because it would be me who would hold up the class. This is what I had to look forward to as a person who stutters. Stuttering brought me to attempt suicide, but it also led me to a special funeral in my life-the death of all my anxieties and anger about my speech, and a new rebirth as an assertive, confident person who would develop into a leader. It showed me that hope exists and it gave me a purpose in life; a destiny to help inspire others that I now understand is a gift because of my stuttering.

My story is probably being lived throughout the universe. It doesn’t matter what city you live in, or if you’re “across the pond.” The journey I am on will have no ending, because we all undertake our path to self-acceptance every day. Yet there are a few things we can do that can help empower us to look at our stuttering in different ways. I used to be full of rage for the first 35 years of my life because of something I couldn’t control. But I learned to channel those feelings into giving myself a voice. I now speak loudly with authority and passion. I’ve done motivational speaking as well as lecturing at numerous colleges and universities. I want to reach as many people who stutter and show them that your speech really can work for you, if you let it. Here are two valuable lessons I have learned that I want to share with you:

  1. Attitude: How High You Fly.  No one could blame you for being angry with my speech. It consumed me to the point where I was just so miserable that I wanted to make others feel the same way. I keep thinking back to those cartoons where there is always one character who chronically walks around with a dark cloud around them. Negativity is the biggest turnoff there is. You can smell it a mile away, and it will make others run away from you very quickly. One of my favorite analogies is to use online dating web sites. I have seen so many advertisements placed by women which have the following sentiments, or something similar: “If you don’t like me because I’m black, don’t waste my time. If you don’t like women who have children, leave me alone.” Messages like that scream bitterness and frustration. You can’t change your race, you can’t change the fact that you have children, but you CAN change your attitude. I vividly remember interviewing for a job with a visible agency in the federal government.  One of the human resources specialists who interviewed me said “You can’t teach attitude. You either have it, or you don’t.” It’s never too late to think positively and represent yourself in the best manner you can. Some people only see Porky Pig as an example of people who stutter, and in fact they may never have met a person who stutters in real life. What if you were the first? If you are, then think about it.  You owe it to yourself and the stuttering community to say “I stutter…but it’s only one part of me. And I am proud because I OWN it!”
  2. The Power Of Support: In 2006, I flew cross-country to attend a life-changing conference hosted by the National Stuttering Association (http://www.westutter.org). It was the first time I had ever seen another person stutter in front of me. When I walked up to the counter at the Westin Long Beach and heard the blocks that I desperately tried to forget, I knew that those 3,000 miles I had spent flying at 40,000 feet had all been worth it. Those days went by in a blur, but I was introduced to mentors who pushed me to be more than I was at that moment. To this day, I still keep in touch with them. The “NSA Nation,” as I refer to it, has allowed me to be a chapter leader in the Long Island metropolitan area, an advocate, and as of now, a regional chapter coordinator. Serving as a chapter leader was one of the biggest honors of my life, but even more so than that, it was a privilege. I cannot emphasize how important it is to be involved in a support group with other people who stutter. One of the cardinal rules I live by is that there is no such thing as a “stutterer” or a “stammerer.” It is always a person who stutters. I understand there are a few people out there who might be intimidated or ashamed to come to such a meeting. I was in that position once. But if you are prepared to walk through that door, you should also know that you are taking a very big step that will bring you many personal rewards in the future.

I want to close my paper by sharing an anecdote that should show that the stuttering community isn’t going anywhere. At the 2011 NSA Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, we were elated to hear from David Seidler, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The King’s Speech.” As he stepped to the podium to begin his speech, he uttered these words with great humility:
“My name is David, I’m a stutterer, and I’m damn proud of it.” The room shook with a one-minute standing ovation. I get chills thinking about the night he won the Oscar and he ended his speech by saying “We have a voice. We have been heard.”

You can be heard too. This is YOUR time!

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Comments

Supercharge Your Stuttering…How to live your life in a positive light expressing yourself! — 25 Comments

  1. Hello everyone! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read my paper. I look forward to seeing your thoughts and responding to them all, and strongly encourage to learn all you can about the unique qualities that make people who stutter very special!

  2. Your paper was informative. To this day I am a covert stutter and I am working on it with my speech teacher who is amazing.

  3. Great paper and contribution Steven. Your honesty is inspiring and courageous to so many. Thanks for sharing.- Pam

  4. Hi Steven,
    Thanks for such an inspirational and positive outlook on stuttering! I really liked how you said, “I stutter…but it’s only one part of me. And I am proud because I OWN it!” As a future SLP I have heard someone say stuttering is only an attribute of mine and you have reinforced this. This is one of the many articles that I have been touched by. You mentioned stuttering brought you to attempt suicide and then gave you a rebirth of a more assertive, confident leader and this is truly amazing! I’d like to thank you for sharing your personal story and wish you luck with your future projects.
    Thanks again,
    Komal W

  5. Hi Steven! My name is Emily and I am studying to be an SLP. I was wondering the role speech therapy played in your ability to own and be proud of your stutter? If it didn’t play a large role in our positivity, is there any advice to future SLPs to improve therapy? I really loved reading your paper and appreciate everything you shared! Thank you.

  6. Hello Steven,

    I think the statement “we all undertake our path to self-acceptance every day” is true for people dealing with all different kinds of difficulties. I am glad that you have made it quite far down your path to self-acceptance.

    I think a lot of people know about stuttering but don’t understand it because they’ve never met a person who stutters. Prior to beginning my graduate program, I had only seen a person who stuttered once in my life. It is hard, as a future speech-language pathologist, to understand stuttering without any personal experience. You can watch videos of therapy taking place in a clinical setting and learn how to teach the techniques yourself, but until you understand the attitudes and feels associated with stuttering you will never be able to help someone who stutters.

    When did you stuttering begin? Did you ever try going to speech therapy?

    -Jamie
    Graduate Student

  7. A great read Steven and great to meet you in Arizona this year. I have a question for you. Why do you think “acceptance” is so hard for many PWS. Also how would you define “acceptance” for a PWS?

  8. Hi Steven,

    Thank you for sharing your story, I enjoyed reading about your journey. I loved your two lessons and believe they would be valuable to many people. As a future SLP, I think it would be helpful to share these lessons with clients. I especially loved your message about your attitude. There are many things in life we don’t have control of but our attitude we do. This message is important for all people not just people who stutter. I was wondering at what age you first noticed you stuttered and if you ever saw a speech-language pathologist? If you have ever gone to an SLP were there things you liked or learned/things you disliked?\
    Thanks,
    Colleen

  9. Hi Steven,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Wow! You are a true inspiration. I love the emphasis you place on attitude and self-acceptance. Thank you for providing an account of your experience with stuttering and how you apply it to help others.

    Lindsey

  10. Hi Steven,

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us!! After 35 years of being “full of rage” what changed? Was there a particular person or event that altered your attitude towards stuttering? I’m currently a second year SLP graduate student and was wondering what advice you would offer for clinicians of PWS to help encourage self-acceptance?

    Abby

  11. Hello Steven,

    I truly enjoyed reading your article because it is wonderful to read about success stories! I think that many individuals do not realize the amount of control we have on our attitudes and your story shows us that we can.

    I am currently a second year graduate student becoming a speech language pathologist and I think your story will be inspiring to clients who stutter. I believe that your story teaches us that we all need to stay positive and accept who we are regardless of what it may be; a person who stutters, a gross anomaly, or anything we cannot control.

    I am curious to know how old you were when you decided to change your path and what made you realize that you wanted to change your attitude?

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    Best,
    Sonia

  12. Hi Steven,

    I too am a graduate student in speech-language pathology. I find the emotional component of stuttering fascinating and daunting; these issues are very real for many people who stutter. It’s disheartening to look at the research describing people (both adults and children) who stutter and how the data show higher associated rates of anxiety, higher risk of poor emotional functioning, and reduced quality of life (Craig, Blumgart, & Tran, 2009; Messenger, Onslow, Packman, & Menzies, 2004; Vanryckeghem, Hylebos, Brutten, & Peleman, 2001). Yet, as you argue in your paper this does NOT have to be the case. You’re an inspiration in that that you were able to make the switch between being owned by your stuttering to owning and accepting it. My concern is that it seems that you had to hit the lowest of lows to get there. If you participated in speech therapy, at any point in were your emotions addressed? I think my role is to provide techniques but also ensure that my clients are reflecting on the affective aspect of stuttering, and empowering them to get their emotional needs met. What recommendations would you make to speech-language pathologists for working with these issues relating to anxiety, anger, frustration, etc.? Do you think that psychological counseling should occur in conjunction with speech therapy and work with support groups? Thank you for your insight.

    Best,

    Kathleen

  13. Hi Steven,
    Wow! What a great story!I truly commend you for turning something that you once thought was a negative attribute, and transformed it into your life long destiny !As mentioned in your paper, attitude and support are the key components for quality of life for people who stutter. What advice would you give to kids/teenagers who are not as willing to go out and seek support? What can an SLP do to facilitate this? Thank you again

  14. Steven,
    I truly enjoyed reading about your story and applaud you for your strength. I cannot imagine the anxiety that consumed you every time you went out to eat. I commend you for your bravery, especially since you came from a very negative place where you attempted to take your life. In my Fluency Disorders course, we had a panel of people who stutter share their stories. This was the most impactful class, as I gained some insight on how each individual actually felt about his or her stutter. One girl in particular, stated how moved she was when one speech therapist asked how her stutter made her feel. I feel that many therapists/educators focus on trying to “fix” stuttering, when some individuals are actually ok with his/her stuttering. I also completely agree with your two lessons that you’ve shared. Attitudes and support systems are very important when dealing with and accepting challenges, not just for stuttering, but for other aspects in life as well!

    Warm Regards,
    Ally

  15. Steven,

    I am a second year graduate student currently working with 20 year-old-male who stutters. Your paper was great! I really enjoyed reading about your positive experiences and the experience you had when you went to the NSA conference. I think that conference is a great place for PWS to be involved with each other and know that they are not the only one who stutters. The client I am currently working with avoids many speaking opportunities because he stutters. I was wondering if you had any insight as to what I could tell him or positive statements to help him get through this difficulty? I was also wondering what was the one thing that helped you make your turn around and know that it is ok to be a person who stutters and to be proud about it.

    Thank you for sharing your experience through this paper it was good to hear about your perspective and how you overcame this “bump in the road”.

    Thanks!

    -Carrie

  16. Hi Steven,
    Thank you for sharing your story, you are truly inspirational. I am a second year graduate student studying speech and language pathology and learned so much about your personal story, as well as important aspects to remember when working with individuals who stutter (as well as any individual I have the pleasure of working with). Through your story I was able to step outside of my world and enter into your world as you described all of your emotions. It is extremely empowering to hear how you were able to take something that once haunted you and turn it into something you are a proud owner of; something that isn’t you, but is merely one small aspect of you. I also enjoyed how you explained yourself as a person who stutters. I think as a future Speech and language pathologist it is extremely important to remember that our clients are individuals, not disorders. I think it takes a lot of courage and strength to be able to turn something that once caused you so much pain and fear, into something that you see as a gift and use every day to inspire others.
    In the beginning of your story, you described the rage and hopelessness you experienced for 35 years. Was there any significant event in your life that helped to empower you and change your perspective? Are there any strategies you use that help your speech and could educate me as a future SLP? I look forward to learning more about what helped shape your life and what personally helps you with your speech.
    You have inspired me through your motivating paper and honest story. I hope to take aspects of my life that cause me to be negative, and turn them into something positive I can use to help others just as you have done.

    Thank you for sharing your story,
    Susie

  17. Hi Steven,

    I sincerely enjoyed reading your story. Your outlook on “stuttering” is simply amazing. As human beings, we struggle with many things in life and like you stated, its all about our attitude.Your 35 year struggle with stuttering did not stop you from feeling empowered, you truly do own stuttering!I hope to share your story when I encounter a client who stutters. As you mentioned, attitude and having a support system plays a huge role with individuals who stutter and I hope to emphasize this with my fellow colleagues that I may encounter in the near future!
    Thank you,
    Aziza

  18. Hi Steven,
    I really enjoy how you talked about how your attitude is everything and how negativity can really deter people from getting to know you. Your article was very insightful but I would like to know more. How do you approach people now that you are more accepting of your stutter? And what would you tell a younger adult who has a difficulty with stuttering?
    Kelly Fairchild

  19. Hi Steven,

    I enjoyed reading your paper about your perspective of stuttering. I agree that your attitude and support are very important for being successful and embracing your stutter. People who have negative attitudes can bring people around them who are negative and it is not helpful when you are struggling with your own identity. I am a grad student and in my stuttering class we had to do pseudo-stuttering so we could get a better understanding of a person’s perspective that does stutter. I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and felt that people were judging my intelligence on the way I was speaking. I’m not sure if this was a phenomenon that I was creating in my head or if I really observed people judging me. It is amazing that you are an advocate and facilitate a stuttering support group. Keep up the great work and good luck to you in your future endeavors.

    Molly Greco

  20. Hello Steven,
    My name is Sarah and I am a graduate student in a speech-language pathology program. I enjoyed reading your paper and hearing your perspective on how to encourage stutters to change their attitude. I wanted to know if there were any specific ways to increase a PWS positive attitude that you found helpful?

  21. As a current graduate student enrolled in a fluency course, I’m thrilled to have a first hand look of the journey and transformation you’ve made as a person who stutters. I am amazed by the change and growth you’ve made from being a person who contemplated suicide as a result of your stuttering, to a person who is spreading the power of self-acceptance and embracing stuttering.
    As I prepare myself for the many different individuals that will walk through my door to receive speech therapy, I think about the different emotional states I will find my clients to be in. Specifically in regards to clients who stutter, what kind of advice would you give a clinician in terms of appropriate ways to approach such serious emotional issues an individual may be facing and guide them on the journey to acceptance with their speech?

  22. Hi Steven,

    This is a remarkable paper. I agree with you that attitude can change the whole outlook on life. Your story is amazing and encouraging. It is evident that you are called to share your story and lessons with not only people who stutter but also with everyone else. As a future speech language pathologist your story has had a profound impact on me. I am a huge supporter of having a positive attitude. That mindset makes all the difference in any situation. It is great to see the positive outcome it has had on your life; from having a cloud over your head to embracing your stutter in every way. Keep up the positive attitude because it spreads like wild fire.

    Best,
    Alex Rodriguez

  23. Hello Steven,
    I loved your paper! I agree with you on the importance of our attitudes and I love how your positivity helped shape you into a proud person who stutters. What advice would you give for a child who may be very shameful of his or her stutter due to the negative feedback from peers at school?

    Thank you for sharing your story!
    Bianca
    Idaho State University Graduate Student

  24. What a great way to encourage people! “I stutter…but it’s only one part of me. And I am proud because I OWN it!” – I love this. Thank you for sharing your story. I have heard many stories of PWS finally coming to the realization that confidence and bravery are crucial elements on the journey toward accepting yourself. My wish is that people won’t have to wait as long in the future to accept their stuttering. As therapists, we can try to influence people at an earlier age to accept their stuttering.