If I Didn’t Stutter – James Hayden

About the Author:James Hayden is a 25 year old New Orleans resident, Saints fan, Survivor super fan, writer, and a person who stutters. James is the author of “Dear World, I Stutter” and has been previously published by The Stuttering Foundation and The Mighty.

Whenever I speak my mind about stuttering to a large group of people, some version of this question is bound to be asked: “If there was a magic to take away your stutter, would you take it?” My typical response is, “If you offer me the pill 100 times, 98 times I’m not taking the magic pill.”

Here are my reasons for not taking it:

I wouldn’t have some of my life experiences.
I wouldn’t be part of a great and inspiring community.
I wouldn’t be as emphatic and compassionate.
I would be missing out on some great life lessons.

I wouldn’t have discovered writing as a means of expressing myself.

I wouldn’t be as good of a listener as I am.

I wouldn’t be me.

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Comments

If I Didn’t Stutter – James Hayden — 36 Comments

  1. Hi James,
    I’m a graduate student studying fluency in class right now and I found this piece of yours very beautiful and inspiring! As clinicians in training, we are learning how important positive attitudes and views about stuttering are and I wanted to ask you if you ever struggled to view stuttering positively? If so, what changed your mindset and when did it change for the better, and what helped you to become confident? I could tell clients all day long to try to see stuttering in a positive light… but who am I to say that? I think hearing from people who actually value their stuttering is more inspiring and motivating for them. I appreciate your sharing!

    Thanks,
    Tricia

    • Hey Tricia,

      First off, thanks for your kind words about my piece. To answer your question, I viewed my stutter as a negative up until four years ago. During my late teens and early twenties, my stutter was the last thing I wanted to acknowledge or talk about. If someone did bring up my stutter, I responded with a less than positive answer.

      My view of my stutter and stuttering in general started to change when I went back to speech therapy at the age of twenty. During my time in speech therapy, I finally explored my thoughts and feelings about stuttering. By talking out my views on stuttering, I began to start accepting my stutter. I began to see my stutter not as a terrible thing that must be hidden at all times, but rather one of the many things that make me me.

      Since late 2015, I’ve been involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA). This organization has provided me opportunities to grow in acceptance and see my stutter in a positive light. These are: meeting monthly with other people who stutter, talking to SLP students about my stutter, talking to members of the community about stuttering, and given me a community of people who “get it.” These experiences have allowed me to grow into a more confident person, grow in acceptance, help me discover my passion for stuttering advocacy, and ultimately see my stutter as a positive.

      Seeing my stutter has a positive thing has taken many years of self-growth and acceptance. At times I don’t see my stutter in a positive light, but I wouldn’t change it.

    • To add to what James said, what massively changed my mindset was seeing other people that overtly stutter go on to live successful lives. The ‘Stuttering community’ and ‘British Stammering Association’ facebook groups massively helped me in this way, there are so many people on there that have go on to become teachers, lawyers, Heads of Departments etc. Seeing everyday people that stammer become successful made me believe that I could go on to be successful too

  2. First of all, Geaux Saints!!!

    Second, I really love your attitude you have towards your stutter and life. In what ways specifically have you seen it make a positive change on your life?

    • Hi Bethany,
      Thank you for your kind words. The biggest change is that by being more open, honest, and vulnerable about my stutter I am more open, honest, and vulnerable about everything in my life. In turn, my relationships with family and friends have grown stronger.

    • Absolutely. I’d rather not go down the “what if I didn’t stutter” rabbit-hole. As a result, I choose to be positive about my stutter and see it for the good it can bring.

  3. Hi James,

    I’m a big fan of your book. I first found out about your work when you were on the Stuttering is Cool podcast. Your book inspired me to incorporate certain bits of writing activities into the work I do, as a clinician, with people who stutter. I will frequently reference your book during therapy and, on more than one occasion, we’ve read chapters together during the session and spoke about it, in real-time. You’re doing a lot of good, man!

    You’re always so honest in your writing. And how about this honesty of “If you offer me the pill 100 times, 98 times I’m not taking the magic pill.”? Solid honesty! 98 times. I love that honesty. I think there’s real power in honesty. I can imagine myself reading this post with a client and engaging in a wonderful conversation about, “Why might you think he said 98 times and not 100 times.”

    A fan,
    Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

  4. Hi Erik,

    Your words have brought a massive smile to my face and joy to my heart. Hearing that my book is being used in speech therapy and has inspired you is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

    For me, honesty is the always the best policy. By being honest with my experiences with stuttering, I hope to change how people view stuttering and inspire the types of conversations you have with your clients.

    James

  5. Thank for sharing, James. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and your honesty about the 98%. I think I feel the same way, although I do not wish on anyone the experience of growing up and living with stuttering.

    Many of us are extremely fortunate to have found organizations like the NSA. I only found it age age 47, but still. There are many, many more PWS who live without getting help to understand stuttering, and without the ability to go down the Acceptance path. We should be aware of these folks in our community, and continue to support them.

    I was not aware of your book, so now I will buy it.

    Thanks a lot
    Hanan

    • Hey Hanan,

      First off, thank you for buying a copy of my book. I hope you enjoy it.

      I agree with your statement about not wishing stuttering on anyone. One of my biggest hopes is that my future kids don’t stutter. I hope for this not because stuttering is a bad thing, but rather I don’t want them to grow though all the negative things stuttering brings along.

      I’m lucky to find the NSA at a somewhat young age (23), but I agree that we need to support and meet all PWS wherever they are in their journey with stuttering.

      James

  6. Hi James-
    Thanks so much for your post! And, for your honesty! I’m a clinician who works primarily with people who stutter and I am excited to share this post with them. I think sometimes people think that accepting their stuttering means that they have to like it all the time….which is not true. You can accept stuttering as part of you and have days in which you wish you could make it disappear…both!!! I just ordered your book – can’t wait to share it with my clients as well!
    Thanks,
    ~Jaime

    • Hi Jaime,

      First off, thank you for buying a copy of my book. I hope you enjoy it.

      I agree with you that acceptance and wishing I didn’t stutter can co-exist. For me, acceptance means “At times I want to change the situation, but I can’t. Instead, I’m going to see the best in this situation and not see the worst in it.” However, there are rare days where I see and experience the bad parts of stuttering and want to wish it away. Since I can’t, I choose to see the good in it.

      James

  7. Hi James,
    First off, what a wonderful piece! I love your positive attitude! I read in one of your previous comments that you viewed your stutter as a negative up until four years ago. This was when you started to explore your thoughts and feelings about stuttering. As a current graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology, I am learning the importance of integrating counseling with speech therapy. Would you say when you were younger speech therapy focused solely on fluency rather than thoughts, feelings, and acceptance towards stuttering?

  8. Hi CMH,

    Thank you for your kind words abouy my article. During my first stint in speech therapy (ages 5-12), the main focus was fluency. There were times when I talked about whatever was annoying me at the time, but for the most part our goal was fluency. When I went back to speech therapy the second time (ages 20-22) I learned and re-learned techniques to improve fluency. However, the majority of the time was spent working on my goals (talking on the phone without a script, public speaking, ordering at a restaurant) and talking through my thoughts on stuttering. By focusing on my goals and my thoughts on stuttering, I grew in accepting my stutter.

    James

  9. James,
    It is so amazing to read about your amazing outlook on your stutter. This was such an inspiring post and it is so great to hear about how your stutter has shaped your life. I was just reading one of your previous answers about how your speech therapy mostly focused on fluency when you were younger. Do you think your outlook on your stuttering would be different now had your speech therapy focused more on the emotional/counseling aspect of stuttering when you were younger? Thank you for sharing your story with us, and again, your outlook on your stutter is inspiring and you presented it so well!

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you for your kind words about my article. From my younger perspective, speech therapy was a means to becoming fluent and being like all of the other kids at school. As a result, I never thought about the emotions that come along with stuttering. I did experience a period of fluency, but that ended my during my senior year of high school. It was only until my stutter returned that I gave consideration to the emotions that come with stuttering, but didn’t openly talk about those emotions until three years after my stutter returned. I think if I did talk out the emotions of stuttering when I was younger, I may have better handled my stutter returning.

      James

  10. Hi James,

    I am a graduate student in the field of speech language pathology. I found your post and thought it was so great and inspiring to hear. My hope as a future speech pathologist is that all of my clients who stutter would have such a positive outlook. I can’t begin to imagine, but I am sure this has been a lifelong process with good days and bad days. I was wondering if you could give any advice or share any information that helped you see your stuttering as such an asset that would be beneficial for me to include in therapy with a person who stutters.

    Thanks,
    Mary Catherine

    • Hi Mary Catherine,

      Thank you for your kind words about my article. As you mentioned, seeing my stutter as a positive has been a lifelong process filled with numerous highs and lows.

      One piece of advice that instantly comes to mind is in your title of speech therapist is the word “therapist.” For your clients, regardless of why you are seeing them, you maybe their person to talk to. Be there for them. Listen to them and allow them to explore their feelings, regardless of the topic. That did a world of good for me when I was in speech therapy in college.

      Another big piece of advice is to conform your plan to your client and not your client to your plan. Allow them to set their goals and work with those goals. I was able to set my goals during my second stint in speech therapy and it helped alot. By being able to see the progress I made in accomplishing those goals over the course of two years, I started to see my stutter not as a terrible thing, but rather one of the many things that make me me.

      A final thing is tell them about any stuttering support groups in the area and offer to go with them. For me, getting involved in those groups was a major key in me accepting my stutter. However, it took three years for me to go to one. If they are not ready to go to a meeting that is OK. They will go when they are ready.

      James

  11. Hi James, like many others who have posted, I’m a graduate student in speech-language pathology and I’m currently studying fluency. I found your statements to be really succinct and powerful. My main question is: did you have a specific “aha” moment when you realized that without your stuttering you wouldn’t be who you are today? Or do you just realize and appreciate that your unique personal experiences have created the person you are today? Either way, I think your attitude and outlook is incredibly mature and admirable, and I think your opinions and experiences could go a long way in helping other PWS gain comfort with themselves. I look forward to your response!

    – Joseph

    • Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for your kind words about my article. I never had an “aha” moment. Rather, through personal growth, learning to accept my stutter, allowing myself to openly talk about stuttering, and getting involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA) I began to see my stutter as positive and one of the many things that make me me.

      James

  12. Wow. I love your post. So simple yet so powerful. As a speech-language pathology graduate student, we talk a lot about what “successful” therapy is. The most important thing that I believe to be “success” is self-acceptance. Your outlook probably inspires many PWS to accept themselves. Have you seen “The King’s Speech?” At the end of the movie, the King (who stutters) says something along the lines of “I had to stutter a little so they still knew it was me.” Your post reminded me of that scene- that without having a stutter you really wouldn’t be the same person you are today. I love your outlook on life in general and I think anybody could use an outlook like yours!
    Thank you for sharing and I hope to be able to read some of your writing in the future.

  13. Hi,

    Thank you for your kind words about my article. I have seen “The King’s Speech”, but it’s been a few years since I last saw it.

    As far as defining “successful therapy “, I think it depends on how the client defines “success”. Although I still stutter, I consider my time in speech therapy a success. It’s successful because I no longer need a script when I make a phone call. I consider it a success because I am open about my stutter. I consider it a success because I accept my stutter. I consider it a success because I am more confident in my stutter and ultimately more confident in myself. Five years ago, I would not be able to type these sentences and mean it nor would I have done something like this. To me, that is my definition of success.

    James

  14. Hi James! I really enjoyed this article and how you elaborated on your experiences with stuttering in such an enlightening way.
    I am a second year speech pathology graduate student and I had a couple of questions for you as well! After reading through the comments as well, was there a moment or time that your mindset shifted from feelings of negativity about your stuttering to positive feelings? How do you feel that those feelings can be fostered in young people with stuttering? Was there anything that you feel could have helped you feel positivity toward your stuttering earlier than you did? I really enjoyed this piece, it made me think a lot about how I can possibly help future clients as well!

    • Hi Riley,

      Thank you for your kind words about my article.

      My mindset began to shift around four years ago, but I truly didn’t see my stutter as a plus until late 2015/early 2016. My involvement in the National Stuttering Association (NSA) was instrumental in my shift in mindset.

      In my opinion, the feelings of positivity can be fostered in young people in three ways: tell them about the NSA and other stuttering support groups, introduce them to positive role models within the stuttering community, and allow them to talk about how they feel about stuttering. Had I known about the NSA earlier in life and knew I wasn’t the only person in the world who stutters, I think I would have viewed my stutter as a plus at a younger age. I didn’t know about the NSA until I was 20 and didn’t go to my first meeting until I was 22. It was at my that first NSA meeting that I met another person who stuttered. By my teenage years, I knew I wasn’t the only person who stuttered; however, until that point I thought I was the only person in the world who stuttered.

      James

      James

  15. James,
    Your words are very powerful, and really help emphasize how our life experiences shape who we are as a person. I, like many other posters, am a graduate student in speech-language pathology. That you are able to know that you would not have a lot of positive qualities you have without your stutter, is impressive. Most people don’t have that kind of introspective view at 25! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  16. Hi James, this was very inspiring to read.

    Can you share an accomplishment you’ve had with your stuttering? And any advice that you can give a child who has not come to accept their stutter? Perhaps advice for the child’s parents?

    Thank you, Monica

    • Hi Monica,

      I’m going to answer your first question in two parts. In speech therapy, I was told to celebrate the small victories/accomplishments of stuttering.
      Some of my small accomplishments are: talking on the phone without a script, ordering through a drive-thru, maintaining eye contact with someone while I stutter, being willing to talk into a microphone, among many others.
      Some of my big accomplishments are: openly talking about my stutter with family, friends, co-workers, and complete strangers; I’m a more genuine person because I have accepted my stutter; I’ve presented to numerous SLP classes about my stutter; I now write about my experiences with stuttering on various blog sites and even wrote a book about my journey with stuttering.
      None of the above would have happened five years ago.

      My main advice to kids is, “Just remember one thing: you always were, always are, and always will be more than your stutter. You may not be able to see that now, but in time you will. Trust me.”

      My pieces of advice to parents are:
      See your child as your child and not your child who stutters.
      Let your child dictate when and how y’all talk about his/her stutter.
      When your child wants to talk about his/her stutter don’t be afraid to go there with them.

      James

  17. Hey James,

    Wow, I love this. Short, simple, direct, and honest. I love that you have “spoke your mind.” I sure have heard a lot about you. Hope we wind up meeting in person.

    Pam

    • Hi Pam,

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my article. We have met in passing at this past NSA conference. If we didn’t, we will be sure to meet in Ft. Lauderdale.

      James

  18. James, I appreciate that you wrote this piece to help me gain insight of how you feel. I am an graduate student in Speech Language Pathology and am newly learning about the world of stuttering. What are the kinds of experiences that you have had that have been impacted by your stuttering? Thank you!

  19. Hi James, thanks for you inspiring perspective. I also liked reading your replies to the other comments. It sounds like the NSA and being open about stuttering is a big part of your journey. A friend and I recently started a NSA chapter but are struggling to get people to attend. We know there’s a big need, but are unsure of how to help people break the ice. What helped you feel comfortable at meetings? Or do you have any advice for someone who is feeling nervous about opening up about their stutter?

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