|About the Author: Steven Kaufman is not only a person who has stuttered ever since age three, but someone who believes the voice is the greatest asset any of us will ever have and he encourages everyone to use it to express their thoughts and advocate for themselves every chance they get. Steven is a motivational speaker who has presented about stuttering in thirteen states, among them Texas, Utah, and Louisiana, and in April 2019, he will be a keynote speaker at the Indiana Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Steven believes that because of his stuttering, he has been provided a special gift where he can help others accept, and more importantly, embrace who they are. A member of the “Aspie” community, he works for the federal government and lives in the District of Columbia suburbs, in northwestern Montgomery County. When he is not working, Steven loves karaoke, traveling, charity galas, talking about stuttering, and catering to the demands of a very handsome black cat that he adopted from the Washington Animal Rescue League named Lucky.|
Thank you for your time and consideration in regard to reading my paper. The following essay is a story about how my stuttering helped me to find a voice that was long dormant inside of me, and how I have used that voice to speak my mind and help others learn that what they say matters to all who hear it.
Road trips. We’ve all gone on them. You can probably remember the feeling of tremendous excitement as the alarm clock went off, quickly packing for an adventure, and waiting for your parents to start the car or your friends to come by, and as it pulls up, you feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins and you can’t wait to start the journey. Sometimes it’s a small ride, maybe to the beach, or others take a few hours, to the mountains or a famous landmark. But you never forget the memories created. I have been on a “road trip,” but not the kind you might think of. There are no exit signs, no tollbooths, and certainly no skylines to admire as you enter the city limits. Yet there is gridlock, sometimes heartache, but the ultimate destination is in sight: self-acceptance, confidence, and pride in who you are. When you get there, the view is something to admire!
This all started with the news that my parents and I didn’t see coming-and it was delivered on a Saturday morning at a small speech and hearing clinic in Syosset, N.Y. While everyone else was getting high on sugary cereals and watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, I was in a sound booth that probably resembled some invention that might have been rejected by NASA. After spending one hour in there, the owner of the practice came out and bluntly told my parents that I stuttered. When they asked if there was any chance of “fixing it” (a common refrain for parents who don’t understand), the SLP shook her head no and suggested that with speech therapy I could improve, but my life would never be considered “normal.” Those next few days at the dinner table were pretty rocky, and many times awkward silence was the only thing on the menu. As my life progressed, I refused to let myself stay silent. In seventh grade, I actually ran for student council president, and won. I had to make a speech in front of the entire student population, which was about 300+, and received a standing ovation. While I felt it was a highlight, the inevitable low soon followed, especially after finding out that I received “the sympathy vote” from many of the “popular” students because they felt bad for me. I realized just what it meant to not be like everyone else. This was followed by the most brutal rite of passages: high school. My stuttering was front and center when I desperately didn’t want it to be. There was the teacher who always said “Put your hand down, Steven, I know you want to volunteer, but I have to get the lesson plan out.” Every time I tried to say hello to someone, I ended up having a conversation with the tiles on the floor. Things got so bad that I ate lunch in the nurse’s office because I didn’t have to be worried about being made fun of. I skipped my prom, and even my commencement. The next stop was Nassau Community College, and despite hearing comments like “This’ll be a new start for you,” nothing changed. One day I just gave up. I was ready to surrender to my stuttering because nothing else mattered. I drove home in such a rage, and must have broken the speed limit numerous times. I went into the bathroom, cried until I couldn’t cry anymore, and looked in the mirror – I saw a tear-streaked face and someone who just didn’t care anymore. I took a sharp knife and tried to slit my wrists open because I thought it would be the most painful way to go, more than swallowing pills and watching your heart stop. I knew very soon things would be all over and I really believed that I didn’t matter. I’d never wish that on anyone.
After spending many hours in counseling and trying to get my life back together, I eventually graduated with my journalism degree and relocated south of the Mason-Dixon Line to start writing for a local newspaper. Imagine that, the person who stutters having to go up to random strangers and start conversations with them! Of course, some of my experiences were interesting. One time I stuttered so severely that a couple actually pressed a $20 bill in my hand, thinking I needed medical assistance. However, I returned home to pursue a new opportunity with paralegal studies-and one firm wanted to hire me, only I later found out that they never had any intention to. Apparently my stuttering bothered them so much that they offered a position to someone else who graduated the same program I did, despite the fact that I had higher grades. She didn’t stutter, though. They felt I was only good enough for running errands, i.e. picking up lunch. When I called them out on it, I was promptly told my services were no longer needed. In many ways, that was the best thing they ever could do for me. Why? Because that was the first and last time I ever let my stuttering prevent me from doing anything.
My stuttering has actually led me to some of the greatest accomplishments, goals and opportunities that I never thought I would even have. I truly believe that I am the “sexy stuttering superstar,” and once you reach the pinnacle of self-acceptance, nothing else matters, and every single door will open up to you. For the longest time, I felt like my stuttering was punishment for something. Perhaps something went wrong genetically, but I know now that I have the power (as well as honor and responsibility) to bring about changes for people who stutter and the SLPs who will work with them. So many people out there aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives, but I know there is something important I can do. A few years ago I started a “bucket list speaking tour,” where I made it my goal to speak about my stuttering at all fifty state speech and hearing association conventions. As of the time this is written, I’ve presented my “Unleash Your Sexy Stuttering Superstar!” presentation in thirteen: Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Utah, Illinois, New York, Texas, South Carolina, Illinois, and in 2019, I’ll be the keynote speaker for Indiana’s association. Maybe I won’t do all fifty, but I’ll do everything I can to try.
My stuttering has given me so much more – it also led me to become very active within the stuttering community. I’m a very involved member with the National Stuttering Association (www.westutter.org), and I’ve held numerous leadership positions in the organization. I’ve taken the lessons that I have learned from my stuttering and applied them to accepting the fact that I am on the spectrum as a person with Asperger’s. It also brought me to finding employment with the federal government, and now I work in the shadows of the nation’s capital, a city where many people with disabilities thrive. I’m so grateful to live in an area that allows that, and I will be here for a long time!
To me, accepting who you are and knowing it, is the sexiest asset anyone can have. If you asked me what the term “sexy” meant a few years ago, I would have cited Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” or Megan Fox from “Transformers.” But now, I say something different. Showing the world who you are, as you should be, is what attracts people to want to get to know you and work with you. I want everyone to know you can travel the same road I did. Yes, it may be very rough, but it is worth it! You can have success and make your dreams come true. Be the sexy stuttering superstar you were meant to!
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