It starts with you (David Alpuche)

About the author: David Alpuche is a photographer/entrepreneur from Mexico City. He loves taking photos, writing, reading, doing yoga, playing chess and telling jokes. He is the current Area 31 International Speech Contest champion at Toastmasters.

David joined the National Stuttering Association in 2011 and currently co-leads the Dallas chapter. He was named “Chapter Leader of the Year” last July. His personal website is www.davidalpuche.com

1 “Fear”

That is me a few years ago. I was 27 years old and I felt like my future was uncertain.

I guess everybody feels the same way when they are 27 years old, but still, I felt alone.

I was healthy, had a good group of friends and a talent for photography. I loved reading, going to concerts and learning new things. You could say I was doing fine, and I guess in some ways it was true, but to me none of that mattered. I stuttered. I was not doing fine, I might never do fine.

“How are they going to know how smart I am, if I can’t even say my name?”

I stuttered since I was four years old, but I never really called it stuttering. Nobody around me did.

When I started having trouble saying words, it had been just a couple of weeks since my parent’s’ divorce. It started with a few words here and there, but then it started happening more. My mother was worried and she wanted to help me but she didn’t know how. She also felt guilty.

You can’t say that my mom didn’t try. Over the years my mother and I visited neurologists, speech therapists, and even a “curandera”, a traditional Mexican healer.  One of them said that there was nothing wrong with my brain, the other had me read out loud, and the last one laid me down on a table and using a turkey egg, incense and some rosemary twigs; did a “limpia” on me.

But the stuttering was still there.

Growing up I did well in school. I had good grades and I didn’t get into much trouble, but there was an interior struggle that nobody knew about. Oral presentations were a disaster and I was terrified of being asked anything in class. I was not a loner but I felt lonely. I was always surrounded by friends but I don’t remember being part of many conversations. I always was more of an observer.

But what was this thing anyway?

I knew that it was difficult to predict. I knew I didn’t do it when I was talking to myself, but trying to use the phone was certain to fail. I knew that I could sing without a problem, but introducing myself was embarrassing 100% of the time. I knew that people don’t take you seriously when you stutter.

Most importantly, I knew that stuttering was that voice inside me telling me all the things I couldn’t do, all the things that I shouldn’t try. I knew that stuttering was the reason why instead of having my dream job as a photographer for National Geographic, I was here: a 27 year old man cleaning tables at a restaurant. A “safe job” that didn’t require me to talk too much. I knew that stuttering sucked.

And there I was, picking up some plates one morning, when everything changed.

A woman, a regular at the restaurant, approached me and she asked me if I would be interested in getting some help with my stuttering. It was a surprising question, but she had shown interest in my speech before, so it didn’t catch me completely off-guard. She said that if I could write my name and contact information she would find me a speech therapist.

I said yes, wrote my name and email on a piece of paper and gave it to her.

A week later I received an email from her. I was to call Dr. Freeman, she was a Speech Language Pathologist who worked with people who stutter and had agreed to meet with me. She would be expecting my call.

Help had fallen from the sky, but you don’t just pick up the phone and call people– that’s scary. It took me more than two weeks to call the number.

When I finally gathered the courage to make the call, the voice on the other side of the phone was sweet and patient. She asked me questions I struggled to answer, but by the end of the call we had an appointment. Dr. Freeman and I met a week later.

We met at a building called “Center for Brain Health”, not far from my apartment, and we sat to talk. “You stutter and it is what we would call severe”, she said after a few minutes talking.  She told me it was incurable, but there was plenty of room for improvement. It was going to take me some time, but my speech would definitely improve, she promised. We started meeting at her office once a week.

She would ask me to speak slowly and to read out loud. She made me talk in front of a mirror. She taught me to stutter on purpose and to pay attention to how it felt, not just from an emotional perspective, but from a physical one. “Where is the block located? Where are you tensing? What can you do to release that tension? What are you thinking while this is going on? Can you explain all of this?”

We would work on speaking every day, but maybe more importantly, she would answer all my questions. Dr. Freeman demystified stuttering for me. She taught me that stuttering was even more complicated than I thought, but it was also not that big of a deal. She shared with me articles she had written and websites she thought I might like. She told me about the history of stuttering therapy, from ancient remedies to Charles Van Riper and Barry Guitar. She recommended meditation for me to learn how to control my negative self-talk, and yoga to “develop body awareness”.  She showed me recent advancements in genetic research and I remember having an important “a-ha moment” when I understood that stuttering was “just a rare genetic mutation”–nothing more, nothing less. Some people get blue eyes, I got a stutter.  It was unfortunate, but it didn’t have to control my life. It was just a small part of me.

When stuttering is no longer a mystery, you don’t wonder how the hell you do it. You know exactly how you do it. That’s when I started to understand stuttering.

And then, Dr. Freeman introduced me to other people who stuttered.

2 “I understand you”

Dr. Freeman came with me to my first meeting of the National Stuttering Association. It was a Tuesday evening and we met in a big room inside a university. It’s hard to understand why, but I had never met another person who stuttered before that night.

It was very weird. At first I did not like talking to other people who stuttered. I realized that if I didn’t stutter myself, I would probably freak out and wouldn’t know how to react if some stranger started stuttering violently in front of me. Stuttering looks weird at times: we make faces, we look away, I know I have drooled on myself. Maybe people react the way they do because there’s no other thing to do– there was never an anti-David agenda.

I discovered Stutter envy. I didn’t know I could look at somebody and think “why is my stutter not as good as his?”–but also his opposite: Stutter pride, “Well, at least I don’t sound like THAT guy!” This helped me put my own stuttering in the right perspective.

But the most important thing, I learned how this thing connected every one of us. I could hear Russ tell the story of how, as a kid in elementary school, he would get anxious and sweaty when he knew his turn to read out loud in front of the class was approaching. I could picture myself in that very same moment. It didn’t matter that he was forty years older and that our background, culture and even nationality were different. I knew the exact feeling he was talking about because I had felt it too.

We all had stories about phone calls and we all had stories about drive-thrus. That’s the moment I stopped feeling lonely and I started feeling part of a group. I had found my tr-tr-tribe.

3 “Invincible”

Meeting Dr. Freeman and being part of a support group changed my life.

It took many years, but I can truly say that speaking is no longer a problem for me. Not that I don’t stutter anymore, because I still do (and it’s still on the severe range, according to experts), but it’s not a problem anymore. Not to me anyway, and it shouldn’t be to you either.

Now, thanks to the National and International Stuttering Associations, and to the countless online support groups, every person who stutters has access to support. From Denmark to Pakistan, and from Canada to India, stuttering is everywhere. Talk to somebody. You don’t have to alone, join the tribe!

Over the years I’ve met many successful people who stutter, anything from lawyers and artists, to doctors and Oscar-winners. From all of them I learned that talking is just one part of the puzzle. Your future doesn’t depend on your stutter but on what you do with it– and you should try to do something with it.

A couple years ago I joined Toastmasters, a public speaking group, to improve my speaking skills and learn how to give speeches. Probably the most surprising thing I learned there was that everybody is scared of speaking. Everybody. And all of us overreact to that fear, giving it too much power over us. Giving speeches was scary at first but with practice I ended up loving it. In my two years with the club I have given many speeches and even participated in contests. Last spring I won the Area 31 International Speech contest, with a speech about stuttering.

So, how do you create a world that understands stuttering?

In the past few years I have spoken about stuttering at three universities, talking to hundreds of speech language pathology students at a time. I’ve volunteered for research and also presented at international conferences. I lead my local NSA chapter. I talk to people on the streets. I make jokes about it.

Turns out that stuttering for 30 years gives you a special kind of insight and people want to hear about it. The world wants to understand stuttering, it would just be easier if more people spoke about it.

So speak, you must.

A world that understands stuttering starts with you.

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Comments

It starts with you (David Alpuche) — 61 Comments

  1. Hi David – what a great paper. You tell your story so eloquently and it is one I can relate to. I did not meet another person who stutters until I was 44 years old. I attended my first NSA chapter meeting in 2006 and I was scared to death. When I went into the room and heard other people stuttering like me, it was very overwhelming. I wanted to leave right away, as their stuttering was like a reflection in the mirror. They were me, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that. I came back to the next meeting and the one after that, and by the 4th meeting, I finally found enough courage to speak and introduce myself. I had been passing when it was my turn. That opened up a whole new world for me – meeting and interacting with other who stutter. Like you, I found my tribe and haven’t looked back since. I have also experienced “stutter envy” and “stutter pride.” And I felt extremely guilty for thinking at least I didn’t stutter as bad as her. Thank you for writing a paper that is so relatable. And thank you for all that you do for the stuttering community.

    • Thank you so much Pam!

      You are a stuttering superstar in your own merit and you sharing your story and being so active is what has made people like me more inclined to do it ourselves.

      See you soon!

  2. Hello David,
    I am an in graduate school to become a speech language pathologist, and I hope I can positively impact PWS as Dr. Freeman has with you. Without even knowing you, I am so happy for you with how much you have overcome, and inspired by your acceptance of something that used to control your life and actions.
    I am taking a fluency course this semester, and while reading about assessment, stumbled upon the importance of empathy. Reading your passage has put emotions into words, and I really felt for you. Thank you for sharing your story with the world.
    I have two questions for you:
    While Dr. Freeman worked with you, she asked you to pay attention to your stutter emotionally and physically. What was going on in your head when you stuttered?

    My second question is related to the recommendation Dr. Freeman shared with you; yoga.
    Did yoga help you to develop a better awareness of your stuttering?

    Again,
    Thank you so much for your time and sharing your story,
    I will always strive to better understand the stuttering community,
    Alexandra

    • Hi Alexandra,

      Thanks for your comment, there are good questions there.

      What was going on in my head. It really depends on the situation but it’s more of a mixture of things and thoughts.

      You worry about the words/sounds themselves: “Come on… it’s MAAA… MAAA… why is it not coming out?!… MAAAAA…” or “I’m running out of breath… that block drained me…”

      About what the other person is thinking: “She looks concerned… she’s getting impatient… ”

      Random things: “and I still have to introduce myself to 3 more people?… I shouldn’t had come… well there go my chances of landing this job… I am starting to sweat, this is gross….”

      Paying attention too those things allowed me to take control of them, removing the negative ones and reinforcing the positive ones.

      And I can talk for hours about yoga. I think yoga has helped me enormously. Not in the actual speaking, but in the general understanding of myself as a person. A lot about stuttering comes from tension, tension that gets in the way of you talking. Yoga has allowed me to become very aware of when I am tense, and where I am tense, of the moments when I am not breathing deeply and the moments when I am. Becoming aware of those things has helped me in everything I do, including stuttering. Now I can catch right away when I am tensing my abdominal muscles, for example, and relaxing them reduces block duration. It’s those little things.

      The meditative practice of it has also allowed me to understand better the way I think about things, and to realize that my mind can say a lot of things that are not necessarily true. People don’t talk behind my back, or care about my stuttering as much as I always imagined. That was all in my head.

      I love yoga and meditation, but that being said I don’t think those are the only ways of achieving those things. I think that any physical activity that requires practice to achieve mastery could have the same positive effect. Running is a good practice to understand how your body works, how far it can get, and how much you can push it. Becoming really good at dancing can do the same. Putting in the practice to become good at one thing makes you think you can be good at others, and if you are good at many things… suddenly your stuttering matters less.

      Thanks for taking so much interest into stuttering. I saw the big impact Dr. Freeman had on my life, and that’s what has inspired me to talk to students who are learning about fluency. Every single one of you is going to have the chance to change somebody’s life, and the better prepared you are, the better.

      Thank you Alexandra.

  3. Hello David, this was an amazing paper to read. I’m currently a Graduate student for Speech Pathology and I have recently learned so much about fluency and the struggles you guys experience each and every day! I have had the opportunity to meet many PWS in the Interprofessional Intensive Stuttering Clinic at Idaho State University and feel blessed that I got to hear their story. Surprising most of their life stories are pretty similar to yours! It is amazing that you guys can go through so many years of your life and never meet another PWS. A huge part of this intensive clinic was using the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It sounds like Dr. Freeman had some of the same ideas implemented into your therapy, specifically body awareness. I am extremely excited that you are in a place in your life that you can be an advocate and inspiration for other people who stutter. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • Hello Kayla, thank you very much for reading what I wrote and for your comments.

      Dr. Freeman made me believe that people would be interested in hearing what I lived, and she was who got me interested in sharing my story, particularly with Graduate students and professionals. It’s hard to REALLY get what stuttering feels like when you don’t experience it yourself, so I believe it’s our job as people who stutter to share our stories with you, the people interested and future clinicians.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Hello David,

    I am so glad that you found an SLP who really tried a diverse range of therapies with you to help you with your stutter as well as outside factors that influence your stutter. You mentioned at the end that you speak to many universities and speech language pathology students which is awesome! What is the most important point that you think all future SLP’s should know if they were to work with a client with a stutter?

    • Hi Sam,

      I really thank my SLP because she was really wise in her approach (and in general!). She told me that stuttering was just one of the things I needed to take care of, because my stuttering had caused me to “be behind” in other areas, so she made sure to keep an eye on different aspects of my life. We are a fully integrated system, and if you are struggling in some area that carries over and affects other aspects.

      To me the most important thing that SLPs need to do, is really try to empathize with the person in front of them. Some of the experiences in our lives are very difficult to really grasp, and should not be overlooked or minimized. When you have struggled to introduce yourself for 90% of your life, for example, it’s going to take time to get used to do it, and it’s going to create a lot of push-back from the client. Patience is required, but also a little “strong hand” from the clinician to not let the PWS control the sessions and keep moving forward. It’s an interesting balance, and it requires some mastery to find the right way for every person.

      Thank you, Sam.

  5. Hello David,

    Thank you for posting such a personal and inspiring story for us to read! I am currently a speech language pathology Graduate student and I hope I can impact lives one day the same was Dr. Freeman impacted yours. I wanted to ask you how you felt when you first met with Dr. Freeman and she informed you that your stutter is “incurable” and it was one that is considered severe? What were your initial thoughts and feelings when hearing such powerful words?

    Thank you for sharing!
    -Stephanie

    • Hello Stephanie,

      To be honest it wasn’t her the person that told me those things the first time. Years before that, like 5, I briefly went to another speech pathologist, my first one. She was the one that told me those things. I honestly don’t remember what I felt, but I’m sure I didn’t like it and was one of the reasons why I didn’t stick with therapy for long.

      I wish I remembered that conversation!

      Meeting Dr. Freeman was very different, I was totally determined to do something about my speech at that point.

      Thanks for you comments!

  6. Hey David,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. As a current graduate student, studying to pursue a degree in speech language pathology I felt like reading your post really opened my eyes to the world of stuttering. I personally do not stutter, and your personal insight was truly eye opening thank you for sharing your story. In your post you mentioned how meeting Dr. Freeman and others who stuttered helped you overcome your stutter. As a future speech language pathologist, I would love to hear your take on group therapy when it comes to stuttering. Do you think group therapy would be helpful for individuals who stutter?
    Thanks!
    Mary

    • Hello Mary,

      Thank you for your comment. To answer your question I believe that the community aspect of therapy has the potential to be the most powerful component. Dr. Freeman changed the way I saw myself and my speech, but it wasn’t until I joined a group like the NSA and started interacting with other people who stutter, that I really took off.

      Seeing people like myself made me feel connected to them–I wasn’t alone anymore!– and hearing their stories of success was what made me understand that I could do it as well.

      If there is not a chapter of the NSA or support group available in person, there are tons of groups on Facebook (Stuttering Community, Stuttering Arena, to name a couple) and platforms like Stutter Social (www.stuttersocial.com) that can provide that community aspect to anybody in the world, no matter their location.

      Thanks again for reading, and please feel free to share my paper with other students that you think could benefit from it!

      David Alpuche

  7. Hi David,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a speech-language pathology graduate student and currently learning about treatment of stuttering. Your story is incredible and your perseverance is inspiring. In class, we have recently discussed when an individual is ready for treatment. I understand that a negative therapy experience can cause discouragement at a young age and can affect an individual’s determination to improve their communication. You mentioned earlier in your post that you visited a speech-language pathologist at a young age seeking help but your stutter was still there. Did your first experience with an SLP discourage you and if so, how? I know therapy is client dependent and everyone responds differently but as a future SLP, can you give any advice on what not to do?

    Thank you!
    Marcie

    • Hello Marcie,

      I didn’t personally visit a SLP at a young age, I mainly visited psychologists.

      My first experience with an SLP came when I was roughly 24 years old and it wasn’t particularly effective, but I don’t hold it against my therapist. I don’t think I was ready to dive deeply into my therapy, and to dedicate the time and effort to really make progress.

      They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear, and I believe it to be true, especially when it comes to something that will take so much time and effort, like stuttering therapy. Nobody can convince you to do something if you haven’t bought into the process, you know what I mean?

      When I took the plunge and called Dr. Freeman I WAS READY TO CHANGE.

      My advice would be to be aware that even though the symptoms might be similar, every life is different, so don’t make too many assumptions. Keep your mind open and listen to your clients’ needs and stories. Be empathetic to their feelings, and go from there.

      The fact that you are here reading and educating yourself is a great sign 🙂

      Thanks again for reading, and please feel free to share my paper with other students that you think could benefit from it!

      Good luck in your career!

  8. Hi David,

    I enjoyed reading about your journey and experiences. It had a very powerful message. I am currently a graduate student in a speech-language pathology program. Currently, I am taking a stuttering course. One of our assignments in the class involved using a pseudo-stutter. This experience gave me a better understanding and perspective about what a person who stutters may experience in a social situation. It raised my own awareness about stuttering. As a future SLP, what do you recommend to best and help raise awareness to others about stuttering?

    You also mentioned different therapy methods that you worked on with Dr. Freeman. What therapy method did you find the most helpful and meaningful?

    Thank you for sharing your story,

    Rachel Root

    • Hello Rachel,

      I think the best way to raise awareness is what I mention on my paper: talking about it. Being comfortable enough to talk about your stuttering is the best way to educate others, and it doesn’t even have to be “talked”, it can be through writing, art or whatever your medium is.

      As far as therapy methods, for me the most important and simplest one was to slow down my rate. Forcing me to slow down while talking was the most effective thing to improve my fluency.

      One thing we used to do at the beginning of every session was to elongate the vowels of every single word for 3-5 seconds, for the first 10 or so minutes. It was excruciating! I hated taking so long to say anything… but the result was there. After the 10 minutes I was breathing differently, I was totally fluent, and I could feel that something inside me would “switch” and I was talking completely different.

      The first time we did that was probably the first time I felt I had some control over my stuttering, and that changed everything, for good.

      Thanks for reading me, and feel free to share my paper with others!

      David

  9. Hi David-
    Your paper was insightful to read and I am so happy that you have become “at one” with your stutter to feel as though your stutter is a part of you. I am currently a graduate student to become a speech language pathologist and I hope to one day make an impact on someone who stutters as Dr. Freeman did for you. I have a few questions on your thoughts and feelings regarding your stutter.
    When you first started to stutter at four years old, you said that nobody addressed your stutter as “stuttering”. Did you ever wish that someone addressed it? Did your parents ever react to your stuttering as you got older? I was curious to see if you ever felt alone in your stutter and how your parents addressed it.
    I also had a question about techniques that Dr. Freeman used to help you. Did she address the negative feelings you had about your communication and counsel you in those feelings or did she strictly work on your behavior of stuttering? She seemed to be straightforward in telling you that your stutter was “incurable” so I was wondering if she helped you address your feelings or just the behavior of stuttering.
    I am very happy to hear that you present at colleges to address stuttering because so much of the world does not understand stuttering. I hope that I can contribute to help spread awareness on stuttering and how it impacts ones everyday life.
    Thank you for posting this article,
    Alyssa McCarthy

    • Hello Alyssa,

      Nobody addressed it as stuttering and I think it would’ve been very useful to do so. As I say in the paper, my family took me to different specialists but nobody was really a fluency specialist, they were psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists… and at the end everybody said that what I had could be something different.

      One said it was caused by a trauma from childhood, another said it was just extreme anxiety, and yet another one called it “dyskinesis”. All of them sounded plausible, so we kept going down that route until we saw no progress, and then we would switch again.

      I grew up in a country where SLPs are not “a thing”, as it is in the US, so everybody had their unique idea or approach, and some were not necessarily right.

      Dr. Freeman gave me all the tools she had. She helped with the actual speech motor patterns, but also suggested yoga, writing, meditation, exercise… a bunch of things to address specific aspects that were bothering me, from negative thoughts to lack of confidence.

      We humans are very complex, but we also work as a unified system, and if something is not right in one aspect, it always ends up affecting something else. Self improvement is not a one-off kinda thing, it’s a lifelong thing that never stops, and it takes different practices throughout the years.

      Thanks for your comment, Alyssa!

      • I am so glad to hear that Dr. Freeman helped you gain all the tools to feel more comfortable in your stutter and life. I really appreciated your comment about self improvement and how it is a constant practice throughout the years. If more people approached their stutter and overall life like this, I think we could live in a world that is more aware of stuttering. People who stutter may be more inclined to keep trying if he/she has the same outlook on the world as you do.
        Thank you for your paper and for speaking out about your personal experience!
        Alyssa McCarthy

  10. Hi David, my name is Lindsay and I am a graduate student training to be a Speech Therapist. I want to start by saying that not only is this article beautifully written, but your photographs are truly amazing! I like to find common ground with people that are new to me and our common ground (just from looking at your bio) is yoga and chess! I love participating in both immensely (yoga far more often).
    Thank you for opening up and reaching out about your experiences, it is truly inspiring reading about others’ life challenges and accomplishments. I think that all humans can relate to feeling alone at times in their lives because it is hard to think “other people are going through what I am going through” when difficult times arise. I also think everyone can agree that finding those people that do understand and are going through similar things can help us feel a part of a “tribe”.
    I am currently taking a fluency class. I have learned about the onset of stuttering and that stressful situations can surface stuttering. I am wondering if you think your parents’ divorce kickstarted your stuttering or if you think it is not related to when it began?
    I am also curious if you find it easier to talk to certain people more so than others (kids, adults, etc.)
    To touch on the public speaking comment, you are SO right about people not enjoying public speaking. Public speaking is not a strong suit for many, myself included and I can completely relate to the initial feelings of fear and anxiety of public speaking.
    Thank you again for speaking out!!
    Lindsay

    • Hello Lindsay,

      This is not related to stuttering at all but if you ever want to play chess, there’s an app on both iphone and android called “Chess time”, where I play all the time, add me as DavidMX and let’s play!

      Back to stuttering, in my family we have the belief that it definitely had some relation to the divorce, because my mom says I literally started doing it 2 days after my parents went their separate ways. Of course I had some genetic predisposition for it, but some of these things need “a trigger” and we believe that was it for me. I’ve read stories and books by other people who stutter and not everybody, but some of them could pinpoint specific things that let them to believe that was the thing that made them stutter.

      And about it being easier to talk to specific people, that’s certainly true for the most of us. I can be talking by myself and not stutter at all, and as soon as somebody else is in the room my whole speech changes. I still find that very odd, and makes me wonder how much about stuttering is strictly psychological.

      Thanks for commenting, Lindsay.

      • I will most definitely check out the chess app! Thank you for sharing!!

        Thank you for sharing your personal life and being so open to questions from strangers. One of my professors reflects on how his dog was his best friend growing up (which most children can relate to) but for a different reason, because that is who he could talk to without stuttering.
        It is amazing all that has been discovered about stuttering but yet there is still so much that has not been discovered.

        Thank you for commenting back!
        Lindsay

  11. Thank you so much for posting this article and being brave enough to do so! We are graduate students in the field of Speech Language Pathology. Your story is something that will help many of our current and future clients. I know you mentioned your ah-ha moment and that is so wonderful to hear. While we cannot sympathize with how they are feeling and how stuttering impacts their life, we love to show them success stories like yours!
    Do you have any specific strategies that Dr. Freeman used when working with you in regards to counseling and/or therapy? We currently see so many children and teenagers who are struggling making friends and are scared to reach out to peers. We look forward to hearing from you!
    -SLP Graduates from USC

    • Hello… all of you.

      Well, specific things are depending on the kind of person you are talking to. We all need the same things, but they might come from different places. I can tell you a few things that made an impact with me.

      One thing that really worked for me when it came to start opening about stuttering, was posting questions on my social media. Simple things like “what was the first thing you thought when we met and you heard me speak?” were BEYOND eye opening. As somebody who stutters you always think that people are either criticizing, making fun of you, or thinking you are less than capable…. but the the responses I usually got were were anything but that. Most people thought I was very brave for willing to speak as often as I do, or admired me for my insightful comments. Maybe the most impactful messages were the simple “I never cared, you are cool to talk to”.

      Little things like those make all the difference when it comes to changing the perspective about yourself and your stuttering, because you can imagine all you want, but when you actually ask people what they think about stuttering (or you), and they all say positive things… you kinda have to accept that maybe stuttering is not that big of a deal for everybody else. And it’s hard to not see yourself differently after that.

      Thank you so much for commenting and please feel free to share my story with other people!

      David

  12. Wow, you have an interesting story and I am glad you are sharing it with us. What is evident from your story is that stuttering is only one aspect of your life. From reading your post, I learned more about your family, your culture, your personality, your struggles, your goals, and your talents!

  13. Hello David,

    My name is Kelsey and I am currently attending graduate school to become an SLP. I really enjoyed reading about all of your experiences concerning stuttering and was inspired by the impact Dr. Freeman had on your life. While thinking about the experiences you shared, I developed a couple of questions concerning what SLPs can do for children who stutter. First, what advice would you give to future SLPs about working with children who stutter? Second, how would you explain stuttering to children who do not stutter? I know children can have a difficult time understanding stuttering, so I was wondering if you could provide some insight based on your past experiences.

    Thank you again for sharing!!

    -Kelsey

    • Hello Kelsey,

      Well, those are interesting questions and I’m not sure I will have great answers. I never had speech therapy as a kid, so I’m not sure what would work at that age, but I think that a little bit of what I said in previous comments would apply.

      Things like “be open about talking about your stutter”, “know that everybody has SOMETHING they are self-conscious about”, “how you say things is important, but it’s secondary to your content”, etc.

      When it comes to talking about stuttering with other kids I would probably say that just like some kids have a deep voice, or a low voice, stuttering is just “the kind of voice” you have. Something that really resonated with me was when somebody said to me that “stuttering was like my accent”, you notice it at first, of course, but the more you talk the more people get used to it and it just fades into the background. It might be difficult to say things at times, but it’s not a defining factor of who you are.

      I hope that helps!

  14. Hi David!

    My name is Kaitlyn. I am currently attending graduate school to become a speech pathologist. The article and pictures you shared are fantastic! I really appreciate you including details about yourself and your stuttering experiences. I enjoyed reading the whole article, but your statement about how you went from feeling alone to feeling apart of a group really touched me. I currently work at a restaurant on the weekends. I have never thought about how little the bus boys speak until you brought that up. I also have never thought about incorporating yoga to learn more about yourself. Did you find yoga beneficial? Did yoga have an positive or negative impact on your fluency?

    While I was reading your article, I immediately thought of my professor and how similar your stories are. He has shared many stories of feeling frustrated, anxious to read in class, and embarrassed to speak to “cute girls”. He has overcame those fears and embraced his stutter. It is apart of who he is. As a soon to be SLP, what advice do you have for me when working with clients who stutter? What would be the first objective to target during therapy?

    Thank you so much again for sharing such an incredible story.

    – Kaitlyn

    • Hello Kaitlyn,

      Thanks for reading my story and your comments. Yoga has became one of my favorite things to do. I started because my SLP told me to give it a try and I haven’t stopped since, 4 years later.

      I can talk for hours about yoga, as I think it has helped me enormously. Maybe not in the actual speaking, but in the general understanding of myself as a person. A lot about stuttering comes from tension, tension that gets in the way of you talking. Yoga has allowed me to become very aware of when I am tense, and where I am tense, of the moments when I am not breathing deeply and the moments when I am. Becoming aware of those things has helped me in everything I do, including speaking. Now I can catch right away when I am tensing my abdominal muscles, for example, and relaxing them reduces block duration. It’s those little things.
      The meditative practice of it has also allowed me to understand better the way I think about things, and to realize that my mind can say a lot of things that are not necessarily true.

      And for your last question: “What would be the first objective to target during therapy?” I would say, listen to them. Every person is different, and paying attention to what they say will give you deep insight into where are they on they journey, what is exactly what they are looking for, and what are the struggles they are currently facing. Listening with care and attention should always be your first task with anybody 🙂

      Thanks for your nice comments and please free to share my article with fellow students or future clients!

  15. Hi David,

    This was an inspiring paper to read! I am currently in graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist and I am taking a class that focuses on voice and fluency. Our professor emphasizes on the importance of understanding the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of individuals who stutter. Your paper captured your journey in a way that allows others who may or may not stutter to see from your point of view.
    I have a few questions for you:
    1. What was your experience like when you visited “curandera”, a traditional Mexican healer? How does the Mexican culture view and address stuttering?
    2. Was it helpful when Dr. Freeman would ask you to describe your disfluencies? and do you feel more self-aware when you speak?
    3. How have you benefited from practicing yoga?

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    -Lindsey Lail

    • Hello Lindsay,

      Thanks for your questions, let me see…

      1. What was your experience like when you visited “curandera”, a traditional Mexican healer? How does the Mexican culture view and address stuttering?

      I knew it was not going to work. I was old enough to not believe in those things but I went along with it because of my mother. I knew she was trying to help me. In México and I have to say maybe most latin countries, stuttering is not well received. People cut you off quickly, they try to finish your sentences immediately and you are more prone to jokes or disrespectful comments. Even in the US you see a clear difference talking to american “white people” and people from hispanic origins. It’s a very noticeable difference.

      2. Was it helpful when Dr. Freeman would ask you to describe your disfluencies? and do you feel more self-aware when you speak?

      Absolutely. So much of what we do as people who stutter is automatic and involuntary, so actually paying attention to what you are doing is super eye opening. Apart from that, she would have me talk in front of a mirror and pay attention to my movement and “tics”. Awareness is the first step, and all these exercises were beyond helpful.

      3. How have you benefited from practicing yoga?

      For this one I would ask you to check some of my previous replies, because I have answered different variations of it already and I don’t want to repeat myself over and over.

      Thank you so much for reading, your comments and for your interest in stuttering!

      David

  16. Hello David,

    Thank you for sharing your personal struggles and then success with us! I am a Graduate student for Speech Pathology and am so grateful I had this opportunity to be a part of the ISAD Conference this year.

    Something you said really made an impact on me and helped me see things through the eyes of a person who stutters. You said, “I remember having an important “a-ha moment” when I understood that stuttering was just a rare genetic mutation – nothing more, nothing less. Some people get blue eyes, I got a stutter. It was unfortunate, but it didn’t have to control my life. It was just a small part of me.”

    Sometimes we have to take the cards that were dealt to us, we don’t get a choice. You have managed to turn something that negatively impacted your life into such a positive and life changing experience.

    Thank you again for sharing your story!

    • Hi!

      That was a very important moment for me, and it came in part from Dr. Freeman and also from an article by Malcolm Gladwell I read around that time. The article had nothing to do with stuttering, it was about sports… but it had so much insight into how sometimes a random gene can really change your life and your capabilities. I borrowed the phrase “rare genetic mutation” from that article.

      Reading it made me find some comfort in knowing that I did nothing wrong, my family did nothing wrong, it was pretty much chance that I ended up with a stutter.

      I would recommend you check the article out, Malcolm Gladwell is a fantastic writer https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/09/man-and-superman

      Thanks for your comment!

  17. Hi David,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper; it was so informative and loved your perspective. I am a first year graduate student and I am currently taking a fluency class. We focus a lot on helping our clients develop self- esteem and how to view themselves as a whole that has many important qualities, and not to just focus on the stutter. As a future SLP I believe it is in our scope of practice to help our clients understand that just because they are a PWS they shouldn’t have to stick to a “safe job” or not shoot for their goals because of their stutter. As part of the intervention we should create self- advocacy and more positivity towards oneself. You said that over the years you and your mother visited speech therapist. Did therapy help at all when you were younger or did Dr. Freeman just approach it in a different way that made you have that “ah- hah” moment?

    Thank you!
    Bailey

    • Hello Bailey,

      I think that personally, I’ve always had a healthy dose of confidence. I knew I was good at things like sports, drawing and photography. I was good in school, as well, so growing up I had a very healthy view of myself. I didn’t feel my stuttering was an issue at all.

      I think where that started to crack was around high school, where talking becomes a little more important. I became more self-conscious and I started to avoid speaking situations, and I started to notice that it was really affecting my life and opportunities. Around that time my mother found me a psychologist, and that was pretty much all the therapy I received. Speech and Language Pathology is not that common in Mexico where I’m from. The psychologist helped me cope with the idea of having a stutter, and some other things, BUT I was still stuttering. He didn’t really know what to do about it. He tried some hypnosis, he had me read out loud, and it was a little bit helpful, but he wasn’t a speech pathologist, you know?

      It wasn’t until Dr. Freeman, as an adult, and here in the US, that I finally got that real speech therapy treatment. It was an ah-a moment because she was really the first person to be an expert. And she was the best. She taught me so much, not only about speech but life in general– It was an all around a-ha moment!

      I think people like you, who are in school right now are going to be particularly good at this, because there’s just so much more information out there! Reading articles here is making you more understanding of other people’s struggles, and that’s a good thing all around!

      Good luck!

      David

  18. David, I enjoyed your paper so much. I can relate to quite a bit of it. Also, when they say “a picture says a thousand words”, the pictures you posted do just that. You expressed so much through a picture! Amazing! So proud to be part of the stuttering community and your tribe. 🙂

  19. David,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am an SLP graduate student, and I feel very fortunate to have a professor who stutters as an instructor for our fluency course. I feel that this opportunity gives us a unique perspective on fluency in general, but especially how important understanding the covert aspects of stuttering is. From your paper, I read that you saw different speech therapists. I’m wondering if any of the therapists before Dr. Freeman ever approached the topic of the emotions surrounding stuttering? Also, I loved your closing piece about helping the world to understand stuttering. If you could give one piece of advice on fluency therapy to newly graduated SLPs entering the career, what would it be?

    Thanks,
    Megan

    • Hello Megan,

      I think I have covered the topic about emotions in previous messages, so I would encourage you to read some of my previous replies. In short, I never really went to a SLP until I was an adult. When I was in México, dealing with the emotions was essentially all I did, through psychologists.

      My one piece of advice would be to be a good listener. People who stutter, for the most part, feel that nobody has the patience or interest to listen to what we have to say. Being a good listener can have a huge impact!

      Also, and you are already doing this: keep learning! Search new perspectives, read articles, talk to different people, know that knowledge is never finished… we keep discovering new things left and right and being a good specialist requires keeping up with new ideas.

      Thanks for your interest in stuttering and good luck!

      David

  20. Hi David,
    thank you for sharing your story. I would like to ask you some questions about how you felt during some parts of speech therapy. I am an SLP graduate student myself, and putting myself in the shoes of a client who stutters I can only feel negative re-action about certain aspects of therapy:
    1) You write rather bluntly that the SLP informed you during your first meeting that stuttering is incurable. how did that information make you feel? I cant imagine myself as an SLP sharing that information with a client.
    2) Part of Van Ripers treatment is to have the client stutter on purpose. how did you feel when the SLP asked you to stutter on purpose? I would think the client would feel it is demeaning to do so- this is what he is trying to get away from! I would think client will feel embarrassed to make a fool of himself on purpose.

    All the best

    Chaim Lederfeind

    • Hi Chaim,

      Thanks for your comment and questions, I’ll respond below.

      1. I think it depends on the age and the patient. I think being honest is the best policy but maybe you don’t want to start with that, which is understandable, but also, on the other side, you don’t want to tell people that they will be “cured” because you set unrealistic expectations. I think it’s a balancing act between you and the client.

      2. I hated it! Forcing me to stutter, or stutter in different ways was something that I never really liked, but on the other hand I can totally see the usefulness of it. It’s part of the “forcing you to be uncomfortable” techniques that help desensitize you to your stuttering, while also becoming aware of how there are different ways to stutter and different ways to control it. I never liked it, but it’s definitely useful.

      Thanks for your interest and for taking the time to comment!

      David

  21. Hi David,

    First off, thank you for sharing your story. As a first-year SLP graduate student, I’ve quickly realized that I can only learn so much from textbook resources and that I actually gain the most knowledge from reading and hearing experiences like these. Like you mentioned in your story, there is much more to stuttering than what you see on the surface. Many people feel like they are being held back by their stutter and are afraid to go after things outside of their comfort zones. It reassured me to read about your successes with speech therapy and how your experiences with it made you become more comfortable with your stutter and that you gained a supportive “tribe”. As a future SLP, I hope to provide my clients with the same positive outcomes that you had show them that there is a whole community of PWS out there.

    I will remember this story and how speech therapy impacted your life as I continue my journey through graduate school.

    Thank you,

    Ali Peterson

    • Hi Ali,

      Thank you so much for your comments and most importantly, for your interest in helping other people through speech therapy. I always say that helping somebody to communicate has more impact than almost anything else. Being unable to say what’s in your mind is a very difficult thing to accept and deal with.

      Good luck in your career!

      David

  22. Great origin story, David! Hope to see your photos in National Geographic some day soon. You’d be perfect for them!

    • Haha, origin story!

      Thank you man! You were one of those people that I met on my first conference and I was just blown away by how little you seemed to care. It was very eye-opening 🙂

  23. Hi David,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your perspective on stuttering as well as your creative works. I am always elated to hear of people who have become more comfortable with their disfluencies and reached a point in their journey where, as another comment stated, they are “at one” with their stutter. In my fluency disorders course in graduate school, we have discussed the importance of taking on the perspective of others through meaningful discussions with clients. I’ve also learned that some professors assign a task that SLP students go out and pseudo stutter to the general public to truly understand the daily lives of persons who stutter. What are your thoughts on an assignment like this? I can see both benefits and risks associated with an assignment like this one. I feel that it treads some ethical lines in regards to respecting our future clients. Overall, I think the conversation certainly begins with each one of us. Until entering this profession, I never knew a person who stuttered. I understand that decreasing that feeling of isolation while increasing awareness will be critical in the spreading the word. Best wishes in all of your future endeavors,

    Laura

    • Hi Laura (That’s my mother’s name :))

      I think doing that assignment is very important, especially when the students REALLY DO IT (most kinda avoid it, for what I’ve seen). At our NSA chapter meetings, we ask the SLPs who attend to stutter on purpose during the introductions, and you can see how uncomfortable they get! That’s the whole point, if you struggle and feel self conscious introducing yourself ONCE, in a group of people who stutter, imagine not having control over it and doing it every. single. day.

      I think it’s a good way to put yourself in your client’s shoes for a moment, to get some empathy about what they are going through.

      Thank you for your time and comments!

      David

  24. Hello David!

    Wow, that was an inspiring read for me! I loved your inclusion of the photographs, they really illustrated your experience and were wonderful! Your experience was fascinating to read about and I am also consistently surprised by the common thread between the experiences of people who stutter. I recently was a Speech-Language Pathology clinician at an intensive stuttering clinic and heard, from my client and the other clients, very similar statements from them! Many had never met another person who stuttered or had gone through social isolation (or the opposite had many friends but consistently felt lonely and left out even when they were with them). As part of a “maintenance plan” for my client we actually discussed joining a local NSA chapter and also joining a Toastmasters group. From a recent conversation with my client I was told that those are two of the best things he had done in years. Having the experience of being able to discuss his own stuttering experiences with others who had gone through the same thing in different times and places really helped to validate his struggles in life.

    I would just like to thank you once more for being vulnerable and sharing your experience so that others might come to a place of understanding of their stuttering as well!

    Paige Newland

    • Thank you so much Paige,

      I also think that support groups like the NSA plus Toastmasters were critical in my development from “severe stutterer who was terrified of talking” to “severe stutterer that loves talking”. Once you understand that you are not alone you can start learning from other people’s experiences. You can follow their steps.

      Thanks again for reading my paper and for your interest in stuttering!

      David

  25. Hi David,
    I am a current graduate student aspiring to become a Speech Language Pathologist. One of my main goals is to be able to have a positive impact an individual, like Dr. Freeman had with you. Your journey is similar to that of many others who stutter. From the struggles of being able to say your own name to the impact it had on achieving your dream job. I believe that in order to work with someone who stutters, you should be able to see things from their point of view and understand their emotional state. Other than working with Dr. Freeman, what ways have helped you improve your stutter? What advice would you give me, a student, who would like to work with people that stutter?

    Also, are you bilingual? If so, how has stuttering affected you in both languages?

    Suerte!

    -Elizabeth Pina

    • Hola Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your interest in stuttering and for reading my paper.

      What other ways have helped my stutter? Basically anything that pushes you a little further is helping. I joined Toastmasters and that got me over the fear of speaking in public, mainly because I realized that EVERYBODY IS! As a person who stutters you always think that you are the one person in the world that finds speaking scary… but joining a club makes you realize that fear of speaking is universal, stuttering or not, so that kinda takes a weight off your back. Once you realize that you know that the only way you can go is up, improving every day.

      I also like reading out loud. I know that reading by myself is not the same as speaking in front of people, but just getting used to speaking out loud has had a major impact on my fluency. As somebody with English as a second language, I realized that some of my stuttering instances (blocks and stuff) were not really because of stuttering but because I just didn’t know how to say some words. My written vocabulary is miles ahead of my spoken one, so reading aloud is a fantastic way to increase your vocabulary and start creating muscle memory.

      Basically anything that you do that includes talking helps you. When people ask me if there’s a cure for stuttering I always say “yes, talking” and I think it comes down to that. You can have all the therapy, all the techniques, but the one way to get better at talking is talking more. No way around that.

      Thanks!

  26. Hello David,

    Thank you for sharing your story! My question is similar to Elizabeth’s…about your experience as a bilingual PWS. I would love to visit with you about speaking to my graduate fluency class (contact info: http://splh.ku.edu/ana-paula-mumy).

    ¡Gracias!
    Ana Paula

    • Hola Ana Paula,

      I would love to talk to your class. I’ll send you an email 😉

      ¡Gracias!

  27. This was such a well written and inspiring paper! I think your message will certainly help other individuals who stutter to know they are not alone and can overcome their fears. I think your message of, “Some people get blue eyes, I got a stutter. It was unfortunate, but it didn’t have to control my life. It was just a small part of me,” was so powerful and uplifting. You didn’t let your stutter define you or get in the way of your goals. Your paper also further emphasized the importance of understanding the covert aspects of stuttering; other people don’t always know what’s going through one’s mind or the certain emotions experienced when someone stutters. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Rebeccah

    • The message of understanding that stuttering was “just a small part of me” is important, but it was also important to mention that I “got that” by the time I was 30… so, you can imagine how the previous years were and the unnecessary struggle I faced.

      I wish I got that message years before!

      Thank you so much Rebeccah, hope my paper helps you in any way 🙂

  28. I so enjoyed your paper. Your journey is an inspiration. To go from being afraid to talk to becoming a Toastmaster champ is awesome! And as a person, you’re just as awesome. So happy our paths crossed and looking forward to follow you on your journey.

    Keep talking!

    Anita S. Blom, Sweden

    • Tack!

      And that’s pretty much all the Swedish I know. I am lucky to know people like you as well. You have been doing the stuttering advocacy thing for way longer than me, I just want to do my part now 🙂

      See you soon, hopefully!