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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Comments

Being the Person I Needed When I was Younger – James Hayden — 163 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?

    Best,
    Amanda

    • 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.

  7. Hi James! I really enjoyed reading your article! It was very personal and interesting to see a new persepective. I have a question. What would you instruct a future SLP/a person who does not stutter to do if they are searching to help and increase awareness for PWS?

    • Hi Haley,

      Thank you for reading my article. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

      Good question. There are a few things you can do to increase awareness for PWS. The first is to know the facts about stuttering. There’s a lot of myths out there and in order to advocate for stuttering and PWS we need to know how to combat those myths. Another way would be to share the stories of PWS on your social media accounts. Lastly, get involved with your local stuttering support chapter.

      • Apologies for using in the wrong name in the greeting. I was looking at the comment below yours when I typed it.

  8. Hi James,

    I really enjoyed reading your article. It was really amazing to hear your story and seeing/hearing you advocate not only for yourself, but for others who stutter as well. I have one question for you, what advice would you give someone who is looking to be a Speech Language Pathologist on how best to help and advocate for their clients?

    With kindness,
    Haley

    • Hi Haley,

      Thank you for reading my article and for your kind words about it.

      Good question. Here’s a few pieces of advice:

      1. Remind them that it’s ok to stutter.
      2. Let them know you’re a safe person for them to talk to about their stutter. From there, let them dictate if/when/how that conversation takes place.
      3. Allow them to either help set or set their own goals.

  9. Hi James!

    I think this is a very powerful message, as many children who stutter are probably experiencing very frustrating moments surrounding their stutter and yearn for someone who can bring hope into their lives. It is so brave of you to put yourself out there to change lives and I have no doubts that you have already made a positive impact in many people’s lives. Do you think people who don’t stutter can also change children’s lives and give them hope? If so, how?

    • Hi,

      Thank you for reading my article,

      Fantastic question! Yes, I think non-PWS can change the lives of children. I think if a child as a speech therapist who is not a PWS, but specializes in stuttering they’ll be in good hands. The SLP can provide them resources and connect them with other PWS who can be the mentor figure for the child and show them it’s going to be ok.

  10. Hi James! Thank you for sharing such a powerful piece on stuttering. Every young PWS deserves to know that they are not alone and should never be ashamed of their stutter. I am not a PWS myself, but I would love to hear your thoughts on encouraging words I could impress on young PWS I encounter so that they desire to speak proudly and often.

    -Susan

    • Hi Susan,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I agree that every PWS deserves to know they are not alone nor ashamed of it. As far as encouraging words, it’s hard to give any. From personal experience, I find that words of encouragement are meant well, but come off as fake. Rather, remind them that it’s ok to stutter and that they’re voice deserves to be heard.

  11. Hello James,

    I am truly moved by what you’ve shared. This piece was very well written and I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I love that your own experience has led you to be the person you wish you could have had with you, by your side growing up. You’re an inspiration. I aspire to have the mindset you do, and I love that you are actively making a difference in the stuttering community.

    As someone studying Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, I had a question for you regarding your story. What setbacks did you encounter when you decided you wanted to be an advocate for embracing and accepting stuttering if any? Was there an ‘aha’ moment where it was a definitive turning point and change of mindset for you?

    Thank you again for sharing!
    Maylee

    • Hi Maylee,

      Thank you for reading my article and for your kind comments.

      Great questions. The main setback was being comfortable with being honest, emotional, and vulnerable with many people. For so long, I buried my emotions and was afraid to be vulnerable with others. I knew in order to do what I wanted to do I had to put those fears aside and I’m glad that I did.

      My aha moment was presenting at university for the first time. It was through that experience where I realized that I enjoyed talking about and advocating for stuttering and that this was something I wanted to do whenever possible.

  12. Hi James!
    I enjoyed reading your story, the change you seek to make is so amazing and I love that you’re able to reassure younger PWS that everything will be okay and that it’s okay to stutter. It is sad to see such little and poor portrayal of PWS within the media. Hopefully with more awareness will come greater representation. As a person who doesn’t stutter and an aspiring SLP, I strive to be an ally and help PWS know that their voices deserve to be heard.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Raygan

    • Hi Raygan,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your kind comments. I agree that representation needs to improve. We’re slowly getting there, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

  13. Hi James,
    I loved reading your story, especially the portion where you mention changing how we view stuttering. This is so powerful. I am currently obtaining my masters degree in speech language pathology and am very interested in stuttering/fluency disorders! If you could give one piece of advice to a future speech language pathologist working with stuttering, what would it be?

    Thank you so much for sharing your story,
    Leanna

    • Hi Leanna,

      Thank you for reading my article and for your kind words about it. I’ll give you a few pieces of advice:
      1. Remind them that it’s ok to stutter.
      2. Incorporate their interests into your lessons.
      3. Conform your plan to your client not your client to your plan.
      4. Have them help set their goals for speech therapy.

  14. Hello James! I loved reading your article. I think it is amazing the growth you have experienced in the past couple years. I can relate to the feelings shame and embarrassment you felt because I have anxiety and depression and often felt the same way as you did about it. I hid it for so long from my friends and once I told my best friend, he encouraged me to go to therapy and it has helped so much. I am a future SLP and how do we gain a better understanding for the stuttering community as a person who does not stutter? I have interacted with people who stutter and I do not know the best way to interact with them. I treat then like everyone else, but I would love to have a better understanding of how to understand them and their struggles better. Thanks for all you do. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading my article.

      You’re doing the right by treating us like everyone else. I can’t speak for all PWS, but a few tips are:
      1. Don’t finish our sentences
      2. Keep eye contact during the person’s stuttering moments
      3. Maintain normal facial expressions
      4. Let the stuttering moment happen and then move on. Unless they mention it, don’t bring it up.

      To better understand PWS, talk to them and read stories about other PWS.

  15. Hi James!

    I absolutely loved reading your testimony as a PWS. I think it is such an amazing thing you are doing by being a role model for other individuals young and old by letting them know that their stutter is a unique part of who they are! As you mentioned in your story, there are not a lot of positive representations of PWS on the television and other places, but by sharing your story, you have become one of those people as well as a great resource to share with PWS and their caregivers so the PWS can become a more confident speaker, and their caregiver can get a glimpse into what they may face on a day to day basis.

    As a current graduate student in the field of speech-language pathology, do you have any advice on how to help a future client who is a PWS feel become confident speaking with their stutter? Is there anything you wish your past SLP would of done or would of said to make things easier for you?

    Thank you again for sharing your story!

    • Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and for your kind comments.

      To answer your question, it’s one of those things that takes time and there’s no easy solution. You can remind them that it’s ok to stutter and that their voice is worth being heard. Something that helped me was meeting other PWS and going to support group meetings, You can give them that info and go with them to one. Ultimately, let them guide and you follow and just be there for them. They’ll reach confidence in their own way and in their own time.

  16. Hi James!

    It was very inspiring to read your testimony as a PWS. Your willingness to bring awareness and to share your vulnerability with others so that you are able to be a role model is more of what this world needs! You are a true light that shows others how that their stutter isn’t something to be ashamed of, but is rather a unique part of who they are. I agree with you that there is very limited positive representation of PWS within the media; a more PWS inclusive change needs to take place. But, by sharing your story, you have become a positive representation and a great resource to be shared with PWS so that they know they are not alone, and so that they too can begin their journey of becoming confident in their speech.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  17. Hi James,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am currently obtaining my master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. I recently completed an assignment for my Fluency and Related Disorders class using two of your videos. I was excited to see your name and read more about your journey. If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self that I could pass along to my patients who stutter, what would you say?
    Your story has been truly inspiring.

    Thank you again for sharing,

    Ashlyn

    • Hi Ashlyn,

      Thanks for reading my article and for watching my videos.

      To my 10 year old self, I would tell him, “It’s ok to stutter,” and “You always were, always are, and always will be so much more than your stutter.”

      To my 18 year old self, I would tell him, “It’s ok to stutter,” and “Disclose to others the fact that you’re a PWS.”

      For context, I’m 28.

  18. Hi James!

    Thank you for being so open and authentic. It is truly inspiring to hear how you have taken the setbacks in your life and are trying to pave a better path for those who are coming after you. Everyone struggles with something, and to see how you have found self acceptance it truly amazing. This was a great read, and I look forward to seeing all the good things that you will do in the future.

    Sincerely,
    Avery

  19. Hello James,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am happy that you are able to speak up about your experience as a PWS and inspire other PWS to pursue their dreams. As an aspiring SLP, I want my future clients who may stutter to have pride and confidence when talking about stuttering like you expressed. I know each person’s journey with stuttering is different, but after hearing your story and many others, I hope those who stutter see that there are more people like them who understand their struggles and know that their voice deserves to be heard.

  20. James,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are true inspiration for other young people who stutter. As a future Speech-Language Pathologist, I agree that it is important that I make sure that my clients who stutter never feel alone. I am going to encourage them to read your book. I believe that hearing a story from someone facing the same obstacles as them would be extremely encouraging and more than I could ever provide for them. Thanks again!

    • Hi Katherine,

      Thank you for reading my article, for your kind words, and for supporting my book.

  21. Hi James!
    I loved reading your story. I am currently in school studying speech language pathology. I would agree that one of the most important things we can give our patient/clients is our attention, and that we need them to know that they are never alone! I enjoyed learning about your journey as a person with PWS, and how you found yourself throughout your journey! Thank you so much for your courage! You will inspire many with your story.
    Chloe

  22. Hi James,

    I really enjoyed reading your story. First and foremost thank you for being courageous and allowing your story to help others tell their own. Your story taught me about inclusion and how important it is for others who may stutter to feel that they are not alone. I am a future speech language pathologist and your story is one I will share with others who I may come across. I am glad that you allowed your voice to be heard to help others gain confidence and acceptance of themselves. Thank you for being an amazing individual who is no longer afraid to let their vulnerability shine bright for a greater purpose.

  23. Hi James,
    I love the title of your article. It made me think of all of the things that I didn’t hear but needed to hear when I was younger. I like that you are using your personal experiences for good and sharing with others that it is ok to stutter. Your passion for this topic will help change how others view stuttering. I am sure that you have impacted many PWS and will continue to do so in the future. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Katelyn

  24. Hi James,

    I actually chose your article to read because I have heard your name mentioned several times in my fluency class this semester. I am currently a second year graduate student at Francis Marion University and from reading this article I can truly tell your passion in wanting younger people who stutter to understand and believe that being a person who stutters is okay. There is often times a taboo around labeling a young child as a stutterer however, we shouldn’t make it seem that way. Stuttering isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t something to make someone feel ashamed or indifferent for. For people who stutter, stuttering is a part of their everyday lives. Young children who stutter should know that there are other people out in the world who also stutter and that they are not alone. They should be taught to embrace who they are just the way they are.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your kind words. I think we need to let the child know that they are a PWS, but in a way that makes them see their stutter as a strength and not a weakness. By doing so, we eliminate the taboo around stuttering, properly educate the child about their stutter, and give them the tools to advocate for themselves. Like you said, stuttering isn’t a bad thing.

  25. Love this paper, James. I didn’t know there were others until I was 27, and this changed my world. I promised myself to never let this happen to others. I wish I had people like you around me when I was a kid. Instead I found my stamily later in life and am now paying it forward, and see that the next generation is now paying it forward again. If we can get a child to say “You don’t have to mimick me, as stuttering is what I’m best at”, we’ve reached a milestone. #StutteringPride should be for all, as we meet hurdles every single day, and yet we get up and try again. Now if that’s not worth a gold medal, I don’t know what.

    So happy for what you’re doing for those who still haven’t come out of the shade yet.

    keep talking

    Anita

    • Hi Anita,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your kind comments. I didn’t meet another PWS until I was 22, so I know the feeling of it being a game changer.

      I love the line “You don’t have to mimick me, as stuttering is what I’m best at.” If we can have all kids who are PWS have that mindset, then I think we’ll be in a great place.

  26. Hey James!
    Your story is such a great representation of finding your voice. Your message can be applied in many different aspects of life not only stuttering. Thank you for sharing and being the light you needed when you were younger!

  27. Thank you for sharing you story. I am currently taking a fluency course where stuttering is a big part of the course. One of the first things we talked about in the class was how people who stutter are portrayed in the media. Like you, I learned that these portrayals in the media where incorrect. If in my future I become a SLP that works with PWS, I am glad that you will be using your voice to help those who stutter understand that they are not alone and a stutter is not a weakness.

    • Hi Katherine,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and for your kind comments.

  28. James, this article so well so beautifully written! I am 2nd year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology. Recently in my fluency disorders course, we actually studied your monologue “Dear World I Stutter”. Your story was absolutely touching and now reading this article about you being the person that you needed when you were younger. I’m so sorry that you had to grow up with lack of representation. Having someone to identify with as a child is SOOOO important. Thank you for using your voice and sharing your story because someone certainly needed to hear this.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading my article and your kind words about it and my book. Representation matters and that’s part of why I do what I do.

  29. Hi James!

    I wanted to thank you for the talk you gave in our class and all the work you do with stuttering awareness. This article was wonderful to read, and it’s so amazing that you 1) had this realization and 2) you acted on it and continue to do so. I’m sure that you’re such an inspiration to PWS, and I’m sure that your inner child is healing because of it. Keep up the good work – you’re awesome!

    – Jillian

    • Hi Jillian,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your kind comments. I hope you enjoyed my talk and got something out of it.

  30. Hey James,
    Thank you for sharing! Your honesty and vulnerability is truly admirable. Because of your openness, I truly feel you are making a difference for both children and adults who stutter, as well as paving the way for a broader conversation about the lack of accurate representation of PWS. Thanks for your contribution!