The Road To Sexy Stuttering Superstardom – Steven Kaufman

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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Comments

The Road To Sexy Stuttering Superstardom – Steven Kaufman — 30 Comments

  1. Hello and good evening from just outside District of Columbia County! Thank you so much for reading my paper and I’m looking forward to your comments and questions. We the stuttering community, are stronger when we exchange insight and work toward a world where everyone who stutters (and the professionals who help them) can make all their dreams come true! As always, the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  2. There are not enough words to describe how amazing you are, Mr. Steven. Your life has been one of hot coals, but you made it through, even if the scars still hurt sometimes. You are one of my role models and I’m so proud that our paths have crossed more than once and that I had the please to dance with the most stylish man everrr! Keep talking my friend, as your voice and your personality will change people’s lives, PWS, SLPs and aspies. You rock!!!

    • Good evening Miss Anita!

      Thank you so much for your message! First, please let me apologize for not responding quickly-I was in Vermont doing a speaking engagement and I came back last Friday night. There are very few individuals in this lifetime who make such an impression that you can never forget them. You are definitely one of them! I am so in awe of the work you do with the international stuttering community and I am eternally grateful we have had the chance to meet at the 2008 National Stuttering Association Conference! I am really hoping that there are many more chances to see each other soon. Please keep up your incredible work, even if you feel tired, because it matters to us all, and you know I will! I hope to see you for the 2019 NSA Conference, July 3-7, 2019, in Florida! As always, the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope North Carolina is near the top of your to-go-to list! Based on your experiences, what do you tell parents of children who stutter?

    • Hello and good evening to you!

      Thank you so much for your message! Unfortunately, you didn’t leave me your name, so I don’t know who to address this to, but I am grateful you read my paper! I’d love to answer your question. Although my experiences with my parents have been overwhelmingly negative, I do speak to parents all the time and I want to stress to them that it is imperative that they do not set expectations on their child, and I will elaborate on that. When children go to speech therapy, there are many times that the child will make excellent progress with an SLP, and then once they return to the home or school, they may struggle and the parents will ask “Why can’t you be fluent all the time?” If a child has a bad day with their stuttering, that is OK too, and they should not beat themselves up over it. Let the child be who he is. I also don’t believe you should say, “My child is a stutterer,” it is always “My child is a person who stutters.” Please consider coming to our NSA Conference, July 3-7, in 2019! As always, the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven. P.S.-North Carolina is a state I am looking forward to getting to!

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, and inspiring others! I am an SLP graduate student, and we often discuss the many experiences of anxiety and hopelessness a person who stutters endures in daily activities. We tend to provide clients with resources to support groups, and I was wondering if any support groups were provided to you when you were younger? If not, do you feel that a support group and a better acceptance of stuttering in general would have benefitted you then? Thanks!

    • Good evening Miss Sarah!

      Thank you for your time and consideration in reading my paper! Your question is very close to my heart and I would love to offer my insight. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the services of a support group for people who stutter when I was younger. It was not until I went to my first National Stuttering Association Annual Conference in 2006, which was held on Los Angeles County, that I even had the chance to meet others who stutter-I still recall the first time I walked through the door and saw a volunteer come up to me who said “W-w-w-welcome” and those words were absolutely like music to my ears-and it is not a cliche. Although I did start becoming active in support groups in my twenties, I do feel that perhaps if I had the chance to become involved in one as a teen, things might have been different-perhaps my attitude and self-confidence could have been molded a little differently. There is no denying that support groups, which can offer so many benefits, can prove significant in how someone views their stuttering. I really hope you’ll be able to attend the National Stuttering Association Conference, July 3-7, 2019, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida! As always, the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

    • Good evening Mr. Grant!

      Thank you for the kind words, and for doing your part for the international stuttering community! I’m really hoping you’ll be able to come across to the Americas for NSA 2019, July 3-7, in Fort Lauderdale! Your presence is certainly always appreciated. As always, the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  5. Wow! You have an inspiring story. What really stood out to me was when you said once you had self-acceptance, the doors were opening for you. I am currently an SLP graduate student and am enrolled in a fluency disorders course. We talk a lot about what “successful” stuttering therapy is, and from your story, I truly believe it is self-acceptance in yourself before anything else. I think your experiences can really benefit other PWS and inspire future SLPs. I can’t wait for you to come to Idaho; I’ll be there!

    • Hello and good morning to you! Thank you so much for your very kind words! What you wrote really hits home for me and I would love to respond regarding that. I have worked with six speech therapists over the course of my life, and I find it interesting now that I learned several different definitions of what “success” is in speech therapy. For example, I worked with one SLP who insisted that achieving success would be the use of an “easy onset” technique for eighty percent of the sentences you would say. But one year ago, I started working with a very well known SLP in the stuttering community (she is based in Northern Virginia, right outside the District of Columbia) and everything I knew about speech therapy changed right then and there. I started to focus more on accentuating feeling confident with an “open stuttering” approach. And at first, this was a real challenge because when I started, I had a hard time maintaining eye contact and would often stare at the floor. But being a person who stutters openly means knowing you are going to stutter, and embracing that it will be OK. I have taken this ball and ran with it…because now I know once you are accept who you are, everything else in your life will open up…no door will stay locked. I am hoping to one day make it to Idaho and I look forward to sharing my story with you and others! If you want to hear more amazing stories about stuttering, please consider coming to the 2019 National Stuttering Association Annual Conference from July 3-7, in Fort Lauderdale! Thank you so much for your consideration and as always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  6. Steven, Thank you for sharing your story about your experience as a person who stutters! I am an SLP graduate student and am newly navigating my way through the world of stuttering and reading article like yours is truly inspiring. I noticed that you said that you have the power and responsibility to encourage changes to those who stutter and the SLPs who will work with them. Do you recall a time when working with an SLP that you expressed that therapy wasn’t helping and needed a change, and why? If so, did it help that SLP change his/her insight?

    • Hello and good evening FishKm! Thank you for reading my paper and for your very insightful question. Having been through seven SLPs in five years, I can safely say that I ran the gamut of techniques and the very first SLP I saw provided me with what I call “awkward feeling therapy.” I will elaborate on that for you-the way she worked with me was to instill “stretching,” i.e. prolongation of words with the emphasis on the vowel. So if I were to say “hello” using that technique, it would come out something like “Heeeeeeello.” I was taught to do this on every word I spoke, and after listening to myself, it made me sound like a robot devoid of any emotion, and I wanted to use my regular voice so the world would view me just like any other. When I learned that technique, I was about six, and I had a very hard time advocating for myself, but I did let my mom know and we abruptly switched therapists-we never gave a reason. In retrospect, we probably should have-but I suspect she did not want to hurt her feelings, and give her the impression that she failed me. With regard for the second part of your question, I really didn’t know if I changed their insight, but what I have found now that I am much older is that once an SLP develops a strategy, if it brings him (or her) comfort in teaching it to their clients, than that is what they will go with. It does not necessarily mean it is incorrect, because what works for one person will not work for another. There is no universal treatment and it is foolish to think that, because each person who stutters is a unique individual and the treatment must be tailored to reflect that. I hope you will consider attending the National Stuttering Association’s 2019 Conference, being held from July 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale, where you will learn a great deal about stuttering and then some! As always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  7. Hi Steven (or maybe I should say – Hi Sexy Stuttering Superstar!),
    First off, thank you for sharing your incredible, personal story as a PWS. I am an SLP graduate student and strive to be a clinician that encourages and supports those that stutter, so that they never have to endeavor a “road trip” like yours when you were younger.
    You mentioned that the denial from a paralegal studies position became the turning point for self-acceptance in your life. What about that moment in life made you begin to embrace your differences and accept yourself for the intelligent, confident, and inspiring person that you are today? Additionally, do you consider your stutter to be a disability, a barrier/limitation, or an asset to your personal and professional life?
    One last question – What is one piece of advice you would like to give to SLPs in regards to educating PWS and their families about stuttering? I do not appreciate the term “normal” that the SLP used when describing your fluency disorder to your parents. “Normal” should be defined on a continuum rather than right/wrong or yes/no, because deviants from the norm are not necessarily right or wrong. They are simply differences.
    Thank you for again for your inspiring post!

    • Good evening Miss Heather! Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and ask wonderful questions, which I found thought provoking! Hopefully my answer can match. Let’s start with the first question about that moment where I was denied the paralegal position I wanted. Up until that point in my life, I had never been turned down for any type of professional job as I was first starting out. I had known a few people who had other types of challenges to making it in life, but to actually hear from an attorney that “I don’t think this job is for you” really stunned me. I took that as a challenge-you have two choices, you can either move on and try something else, or you can accept that your stuttering will be part of who you are for the rest of your life, and you can try to make it what you want. If you think it will be negative, it will. If you think it will be positive, it will. I can say if it wasn’t for my stuttering, I probably would not have had the opportunities I’ve been given-to speak in so many states and present my experiences to help current and future SLPs. While stuttering is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, how each person views it is different. Some people do think it is a disability, others don’t. I will say that my stuttering combined with Asperger’s does put me in a unique situation. Some will say I have two strikes against me, but I’m the one who will always keep stepping up to the plate. It may not make me desirable to a lot of women but I’m not changing who I am. One of my favorite quotes is “You were born an original. Don’t die a copy!”
      You are right when you said you did not appreciate the term “normal” when the SLP spoke with my parents. One thing I do strongly believe is that an SLP should NOT use the term “stutterer” or “stammerer.” Labels are for designer jeans, not people. I never believe in saying “I know stutterers,” it’s always “I know a person who stutters.” Always emphasize that stuttering should never define a person. Show empathy and compassion. Stuttering can create a lot of emotional obstacles and just by showing that you care and want to help can go a very long way.
      And lastly, I hope you will want to consider attending the National Stuttering Association’s 2019 Annual Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s July 3-7 and you will learn so much about stuttering from the people who live it every day. It’s the best investment you can make in your field! As always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  8. Hello Steven!

    My name is Caitlin and I am a SLP graduate student who is currently taking a fluency class. We have been discussing the importance of counseling and discussing emotions with our clients who stutter to help them accept their stutter. What advice do you have for providing support to our clients and their parents about stuttering?

  9. Hello Miss Caitlin! Thank you for your question and for reading my paper! Emotions for me play a very big component of stuttering. One of the things that I stress whenever I do a presentation to current and future SLPs is that first and foremost, we need to focus on the person. When I was a chapter for the National Stuttering Association (Long Island region), I made it a policy that we should not see ourselves as “stutterers” or “stammerers” because saying those words often invokes negative feelings of self-worth. You should only look at yourself as as “person who stutters,” because it reminds us that we do have much to offer the world and share. Stuttering is merely a small part of who we are. When you speak to parents for the first time, they may naturally feel frightened and intimidates, but it is important to approach with compassion Be direct and address their concerns about what “stuttering is” and what “stuttering is not.” I hope you can meet hundreds of other people who stutter at the 2019 National Stuttering Association Annual Conference, from July 3-7, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale! As always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  10. Hi Steven,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your paper. I especially loved your honesty. You have certainly come a long way. I believe that you have and will continue to help others see the value in a PWS. Suicide is a problem and should not be shoved in a closet because of embarrassment or denial. Thank you for stepping out and admitting to the emotions you’ve experienced. As we keep bullying at the forefront we can work to combat it. I also appreciate your enthusiasm for spreading more sexy stuttering superstars! Thank you!

    Heather

    • Good evening Miss Heather! Thank you very much for your reply to my paper! I am very grateful especially for your compliment about my honesty. The ultimate pinnacle of the self-acceptance journey is to reach the summit where you feel you can be completely transparent about who you are and how you feel. Looking back it does seem like it took me forever to get to that point, but I would not trade any of the heartbreak and pain I endured because it is a valuable part of my life. Although my stuttering is mild to moderate and it frequently fluctuates, I do know many others who stuttering is much more severe than mine is. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how bullying can impact a person who stutters and their life, and we need to keep hammering home the point that bullying is not OK. I don’t want anyone to ever reach the point where I did and that is why I will continue to do all that I can to make sure for people who stutter they know that there is hope and things do get better. I hope you will be able to join the National Stuttering Association in 2019 for their annual conference in Fort Lauderdale from July 3-7! As always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  11. Hello Steven. Greetings from Kentucky. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    What advice do you have for people who stutter and their speech therapists when it comes to feeling loss of control and feeling helpless when stuttering occurs?

    Charlie

    • Good evening Mr. Charles! Thank you so much for your reply to my paper, and for your question. Ironically, before I answer, I did want to let you know that I was selected a few years ago to present at the Kentucky Speech-Language-Hearing Association conference, it was held in Louisville (I think), unfortunately two days before the conference I had to pull out because I really had a nasty head cold. I really wish I could have been there! Loss of control is a big thing for me because at one time I wanted to believe that I could “will” myself to be fluent. But you can’t. Like it or not, we just do not know if we will have a good stuttering day or a bad one, and it can drive you crazy if you allow it to. As far as being a person who stutters, I think it’s important to know that if you lose control about how your speech performs, that is 100 percent OK. My SLP, who happens to be a person who stutters, works with me about the concept of “open stuttering” and letting your stuttering go the way it wants to, because the harder you fight back, the worse it will be.Whenever I have experienced loss of control, sometimes I have been sorely tempted to pull out all the stops and do everything to get back into a rhythm-using tricks or secondaries, and my SLP reminds me that it is important to allow stuttering to take its course.I hope this helps! We look forward to seeing you at the 2019 National Stuttering Association Annual Conference, July 3-7, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale! As always the pleasure was all mine. Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

      • Thank you, Mr. Steven Kaufman. Yes, your reply helps. Thanks for sharing how you have coped with feeling loss of control when stuttering happens.

  12. Steven, such a powerful and inspirational story you have shared here! As a future SLP, I hope to instill within my clients the same sense of joy and pride that you have now found in being who you are and in speaking the way that you do! I suppose I am curious if there was ever anything an SLP did for you in particular that stood out to you as being beneficial or helpful with your stuttering?
    -Thanks!

    Allie

    • Good evening Miss Allie! Thank you so much for your time with regard to reading my paper and for your question! I’d love to respond. My experience with SLPs have been a very interesting one, that is for sure. I have been through seven in five years and while each of them taught me different ways of how to approach my stuttering, the one I am currently working with now has had the biggest impact. She happens to be based in the Commonwealth of Virginia in Fairfax County, which is due west of the capital, and her reputation is so strong that she specializes in only stuttering and has a significant waiting list. When I first started to work with her, she provided me with a fresh and brand new approach that I had never heard of before, but I quickly learned that there was a lot of truth to what she was teaching me. I learned how to use an “open stuttering” approach-for a long time when I was speaking with someone, I would stare at the floor, and I did this with great frequency that I would often joke that I could identify what style of tiles there were on the floor. The “open stuttering” approach is to maintain a constant sense of eye contact and allow yourself to experience a loss of control, i.e. let your stuttering go the way it wants to, because the more we try and will ourselves to control it, the more severe our stuttering is going to be. I’ll admit at first this was something I never thought I could relate to but there is a certain freedom in allowing yourself to be liberated. I hope you will want to join the National Stuttering Association for our 2019 conference, July 3-7, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As always the pleasure was all mine! Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  13. Steven,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It was a good insight to the struggles endured by those who have a stutter. I also like how you connected everyone and explained how we all can be confident in who we are and allow that to lead us to success. As SLP undergraduate student, what advise to you have or important thing a therapist working with a client who stutters should know?
    Madison

    • Good evening Miss Madison! Thank you so much for your question and for taking the time to read my paper. As you can imagine, there are no “hard and fast” rules when it comes to advice for a SLP who will work with someone who stutter, but there are some key things that can allow for a smooth relationship. First, if you can help it, do not refer to your patient as “stutterer” or “stammerer.” When I was leading an adult support group for people who stutter a few years ago, I made it a personal rule that I would never use that term for the attendees. We would only use “person who stutters,” because the emphasis is put on the word “person.” A person who stutters may very well be self-conscious to begin with, and if someone uses that term, it may exacerbate the way they feel. Secondly, be prepared to work with all kinds of emotions. Stuttering is unique in the way that it brings out so many different types of feelings, not just day to day, but it can even be minute by minute. Happiness, anger, frustration, euphoria-sometimes it will be a challenge to face so many things and it seems like an onslaught is coming, but as an SLP you really do have the chance to make a huge difference in someone’s life. I hope you will want to join the National Stuttering Association for our 2019 conference in Fort Lauderdale, July 3-7, 2019. As always the pleasure was all mine! Respectfully yours, Mr. Steven.

  14. Hello Steven,
    Your story was amazing! I loved that you made goals for yourself to finish even with the challenges that you face on a day to day basis, and I was just wondering did you meet your goals? and if so do you have new goals to look forward to in the future ?