Being the Person I Needed When I was Younger – James Hayden

James Hayden

About the Author:

James Hayden is an HLA technologist, writer, and a person who stutters from the New Orleans area. James is the author of Dear World, I Stutter: A Series of Open Letters from a Person Who Stutters. His work has been published by The Mighty, The Stuttering Foundation, Stamma, Yahoo, and MSN. James has also appeared on several podcasts, presented at the National Stuttering Association conference, the Australian Speak Easy Association Virtual Conference, and was a speaker at TEDxOchsner 2019. He also serves as the chapter leader for the New Orleans chapter for the National Stuttering Association.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m sure that’s a question most of us were asked at some point during our childhood. Like most kids, I had unrealistic expectations about what the future would hold for me.  Five-year-old me wanted to be a Power Ranger, specifically the green one. They were my heroes for how they saved Earth from evil such as: Lord Zedd, Rita Repulsa, Divatox, Astronema, and many others.   Once I realized that was unattainable, my answer went from meteorologist to pharmacist to forensic scientist.  Now that I’m 28, and considered a grown up, my response to that question is, “The person I needed when I was younger.” You might be wondering, “Who is that person?”  “How do you do that, James?” “Why do you do put your biggest vulnerability out there?” Well, allow me to explain. 

Growing up, I did not know another person who stutters (PWS). As a result, there was a time when I thought I was the only PWS on earth. Over time, I learned that wasn’t the case; however, I did not meet another PWS until I was 22 years old. The only “role model” I had in my life was Porky Pig and let’s be real Porky’s not a role model for a PWS, especially young PWS. Due to the lack of PWS in my life and poor representation in the media, I didn’t have anyone to share my insecurities with about stuttering.  I had no one to tell me that it will be ok and that I am not alone in this journey, but rather one of seventy million people in this world who stutter. I didn’t know that a person who stuttered could be successful, however you define success. I didn’t have any one that truly “got it”. In short, I didn’t have any one or any representation who showed me or told me, “It’s ok to stutter.” Ultimately, that’s the person I’m trying to be. Someone who uses their voice and platform to tell others, especially young PWS, “It’s ok to stutter.”

Now that we know who I’m trying to be, let’s talk about how I try to be that person. Up until a few years ago, I did everything in my power to not be the person I needed.  Stuttering was that embarrassing friend that neither myself nor anyone else acknowledged. If I did talk about it, then I did it with a voice full of shame and embarrassment. If someone else acknowledged it, then I told them off. Over the past few years, I’ve become comfortable with my voice and now I use it at all the time. I use my social media platforms to promote stuttering awareness. I use the written word to share my experiences as a PWS in order to give others an honest account of what stuttering is. I will talk about stuttering anywhere and anytime with anyone in hopes that it removes any stigmas and taboos associated with stuttering. I go on podcasts to talk about my journey to show others they are not alone. My voice is now full of pride and confidence when I talk about stuttering. That’s a sentence I couldn’t write a few years ago.   

Ultimately, my why is simple: I want my voice to be part of the dialogue that changes how we view stuttering.  Putting my biggest vulnerability out there is difficult and at times uncomfortable; yet, it’s well worth it. I put my vulnerability out there to show 10-year-old James and other young PWS that it’s ok to stutter. I do it to show them that stuttering should not and will not hold them back from doing incredible things in their lives. I do this to show everyone how powerful it is when we embrace our vulnerabilities.  Simply, I do everything I do so I can be the person I needed when I was younger. I also do it to be the person another PWS might need. If my voice lets even one young PWS know they’re not alone, then every negative thing I’ve experienced and will experience because of stuttering is well worth it. Ultimately, I want my words to speak the change I wish to see for future generations. 

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Being the Person I Needed When I was Younger – James Hayden — 114 Comments

  1. Hello!
    It was so great to read your story and hear how you used humor as a resource and not hiding behind your stutter but rather embracing it! What would you say is your biggest obstacle while teaching with a stutter?

    • So sorry, I commented on this under the wrong paper when I selected to write a response. Although I did want to write to you as well, you said you wish you would have had a person to look up to and be the person you needed. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

      • Hi,

        No worries! I would tell my 10 year old self: “You always were, always are, and always will be more than your stutter. You may not see that now, but in time you will. Trust me.” I would tell my 20 year old self, “Disclose that you’re a PWS. It makes life easier.”

        For reference, I’m 28.

  2. Hi James,

    Thank you for sharing your story and giving readers the opportunity to learn first hand the impact of the lack of representation. I also enjoyed your thoughtful responses to the comments on this thread. I am impressed with your ability to articulate your journey and look forward to reading more from you. Thank you for being a great role model to not only PWS but to everyone and encouraging self acceptance.

  3. James,

    Your story is unbelievable and incredibly impowering. I feel as if you continue to tell your story to not only PWSs, but people with other disabilities and impairments. It hurts to see the pain you had to endure before you were able to truly understand the meaning of life and the help you could do for others. You seem like an amazing person and I hope you are able to continue spreading your encouragement with PWSs! It is encouraging to hear someone who truly understands what it is like having an impairment in life and how successful they live their life now without letting the impairment truly impair their quality of life!

  4. Hello James,

    First, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. I like that you mention this lack of representation in the media, and lack of role models for PWS. I think it is an awesome point, and I do believe that we need more representation for young kids, like yourself, growing up. I wanted to ask if you had an SLP growing up because you mention no one “got it”. As an aspiring SLP, I am actively working on trying to be as empathetic as possible. If you did have an SLP who was not understanding, would you be willing to share more about it?

    • Hi Alicia,

      Thanks for reading my article. I agree! We live in a time where representation and the stuttering community needs to be better represented in the media.

      Great question! Over the course of my time in speech therapy, I had 6 SLPs. They were all wonderful, understanding, and empathetic; however, none were PWS. In my opinion, unless you’re a PWS it’s hard to truly “get it”. You can read all the books and talk to every PWS, but without that lived experience it’s difficult to really “get it”. With that said, my SLPs were great people and helped me get to where I am today.

  5. Hi James! It is amazing to see that even though you struggled with your stutter as a young kid, you now embrace it and try to be that person you needed as a kid for others like you! People like you will be the ones to erase stigmas and negative feelings towards stuttering!

  6. Hi James,

    Thank you for sharing your story and being an advocate for all PWS! I have two questions.
    1- What advice would you give to a person who does not stutter to increase awareness and advocate for people who stutter?
    2- What advice would you give to SLPs who work with children who stutter, especially in regards to helping them and their family with the emotional aspect of stuttering?


    • Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for reading my article. Great questions.

      1. Simply, be an ally. Familiarize yourself with the myths about stuttering and how to properly respond to those myths. Highlight the voices of PWS on your social media profiles. Get involved in stuttering organizations. When you talk to a PWS and they are in the middle of a stuttering moment keep eye contact with them and don’t finish their sentences, unless they give you permission to do that.

      2. First off, make sure both the family and the child know that it’s ok to stutter. Having that mindset will be beneficial to both parties. After the trust between you and the client, bring up the stuttering iceberg. From there, let the child decide if/how/when they want to have that conversation.
      Two non-emotional tips are: incorporate their interests into your lessons and conform your plan to your client not your client to your plan.

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