One Conversation at a Time – David Alpuche

David AlpucheAbout the Author:

David Alpuche is a photographer/entrepreneur from Mexico City. He has won multiple speaking awards in Toastmasters, was named “Chapter Leader of the Year” by the National Stuttering Association, and is currently one of the leaders in To Be Like Me, a non-profit dedicated to breaking down the barriers that exist for those with disabilities and shed light on the positive impact of inclusion, ignite compassion, and foster awareness of the unique abilities of others. David likes to stay active by playing soccer, volleyball, and doing yoga. He speaks multiple languages and also likes to play chess, read, and listen to live music. 

In 2017 I submitted my first paper for International Stuttering Awareness Day. In that paper, titled “It Starts with You,” I wrote about my life as a person who stutters up to that day; from my childhood not knowing what stuttering was, to my first experiences with therapy in my late 20s, to my discovery of the global stuttering community. The title of the paper, “It Starts With You,” came about because the theme that year was A World That Understands Stuttering, and I thought that if we, people who stutter, want a world that understand us, it’s precisely up to us to make it happen, one conversation at a time. A good summary would be my last paragraph:

“So, how do you create a world that understands stuttering?

In the past few years I have spoken about stuttering at three universities, talking to hundreds of speech language pathology students at a time. I’ve volunteered for research and also presented at both national and international conferences. I lead my local NSA chapter. I talk to people on the streets. I make jokes about it. The world wants to understand stuttering, it would just be easier if more people spoke about it. So speak, you must. A world that understands stuttering starts with you.”

Do you know what I’ve been doing since? Talking about stuttering… and I mean A LOT.

First, I still volunteer to talk about stuttering at universities. For the past few years I have been invited to speak about stuttering at every major university in Dallas/Fort Worth, and that has made me known enough that I was later invited to speak (in person or via zoom) at universities in California, Oklahoma, Kansas, New York and Florida. I’ve even talked about stuttering in Europe.

Let me tell you why this is important to me:

When I was in a bad place I was helped by a great Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) that literally changed my life. The outgoing, social, and communicative person I am today is very recent. Growing up I always felt trapped inside my brain. I knew I was smart, but I had no way of communicating it to others. I had ideas to share, jokes to tell, and truths about myself that I never spoke out loud.

Like many people who stutter, more often than not I chose to not speak because trying to do it usually ended in:

A)   Frustration

B)   Embarrassment

C)   Some other horrible feeling

D)   All of the above.

Growing up with a stutter sucked. Before every interaction you get this jolt of anxiety, pessimism and self-hatred because you know it’s not going to go well. Stuttering can wreck your confidence, and as a result I hated talking. With a passion.

I felt that I missed out on so much, and not going to lie, deep down I feared I was going to miss out on things for the rest of my life. I thought that was my fate. I have met hundreds of people who stutter that feel or felt the same way, and you might know one without knowing it.

I was almost 30, when one day a Speech Pathologist found me, and out of nowhere asked me “do you want some help with that?”  And boom, just like that she literally changed my life!

But, I’ll start with the obvious: She didn’t cure my stutter.

By academic standards I still stutter pretty severely. I still get blocked saying my name 93% of the time. I can’t do an easy onset to save my life.

The twist is that I don’t care anymore. She did teach me techniques, and they do help, but getting rid of my stutter is not my goal in life anymore. I’m too busy living life and having fun now.

The most important thing that my SLP, Dr. Freeman (you know I have to mention your name every time!), did for me was that she helped me understand stuttering. She made me realize that stuttering is something you could learn about, and honestly, even after doing it for 25 years, I was very ignorant about it. I knew how it felt, but not what it was.

So I learned all I could. I had a ton of questions, which to the best of her ability she tried to answer. She recommended books and websites to me. Maybe more importantly, she also encouraged me to explore the subject myself, first encouraging me to write about it, and later by inviting me to speak at the university where she worked.

First of all, I had never spoken in front of an audience before. As a matter of fact I avoided doing exactly that all my life. But there I was, in front of a group of close to a hundred students telling them about myself and answering questions about stuttering for an hour… when I got it.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that a great Speech Pathologist like Dr. Freeman is not born, he/she is made. She had to get her knowledge somewhere, over many years, and it wasn’t until then, in front of those students, that I got that they didn’t know much about stuttering… yet. They were just some kids trying to figure out their careers like most people in college. To them, I was the expert, and I felt a deep responsibility to try my best to explain what I knew about it.

There are hundreds of Speech Pathologists who leave college every year, and some of them graduate without ever talking to a person who stutters. I feel that taking the time to talk to those students, even if it’s only for an hour or two, has the potential to spark their curiosity and lead them to understand better what it is like to have a stutter.

Since then, I have spent the last 9 years talking to every university that has been kind enough to invite me, and I will continue to do it as long as I have the time because I believe that an hour of my time has the potential to help a kid or adult with a stutter 5,10, 20 years down the road. I’ve seen it happen already, when students I talked to years ago reach out to me to thank me for my time when they have to treat somebody with a stutter.

Now, how does this relate to you? Well, I don’t know you, my lovely reader, but if you are here  it is because you stutter, or you have an interest in stuttering, so you are in position to help the cause.

Obviously, I don’t expect you to follow my path. I always had a desire to speak in front of an audience, so giving me a stage to talk about something so uniquely mine felt like a dream come true. But, you can do the same on a smaller scale.

If you stutter, do you know how to explain it to others? If not, take a moment to educate yourself. The National Stuttering Association, The Stuttering Foundation, and of course, The International Stuttering Association, have many free resources available. Get comfortable with stuttering. This will take time, but I learned that the more comfortable you are with your identity, the less it bothers you when someone gets you wrong.

Over the years I learned that the more I opened myself to others about my stuttering and my struggles with it, the more empathy I experienced from the people around me, and the more they used my experiences and stories as a starting point when they encountered somebody else who stuttered in their daily lives.

Every time one of us volunteers to speak about stuttering, in any context, we have the opportunity to educate people and make it easier for the next one. You know how people that do CrossFit can’t stop talking about CrossFit? Become that person. Just with stuttering, and 95% less annoying.

Do something, do it consistently, and things will start to happen.

Finally, thanks to my work with universities, last year I was approached by a newly formed non-profit called To Be Like Me (TBLM), based in Dallas. TBLM was founded by three health professional (one of them an SLP) with a passion for spreading awareness and compassion for people with differences and disabilities. We have people with dyslexia, autism, chromosome differences, vision loss, hearing loss, with muscular dystrophy, … and 3 people like me, who stutter. They have formed a very special team of people from all walks of life, with the shared mission of educating people about what it is to be like us.

The program is designed for school aged children, and through in-person and online interactions, led by us, we create learning opportunities that foster empathy, compassion and a desire to be more inclusive.

It’s amazing seeing the curiosity of children when they meet somebody different. We always hear people say “kids are mean,” but they are not mean, they are just ignorant about the specific challenges that we face. But most of them want to learn, and it’s heartwarming seeing how, with just one hour in front of somebody different, they learn that we are all the same, and we all just want to be accepted, understood and loved.

I think these conversations can have an impact in future generations.

The truth is that if we do not explain, we can never be understood. So like I said years ago: start today, one conversation at a time.

David Alpuche Change

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Comments

One Conversation at a Time – David Alpuche — 37 Comments

  1. Hello!

    Thank you for taking the time to read my essay and I will be here ready to answer all your questions and read your comments.

    Thanks for being part of this community or supporting us today and always.

    David Alpuche.

    • Truly inspiring David
      Love what you are doing with schools. I agree that kids are not mean. They are curious, they can be uninhibited in asking about things they do not understand and often may lack the social graces to avoid offensive or insensitive phrasing, but they do cut to the chase. So much better that they hear information from people with accurate insight than base their opinions on hearsay, misconceptions and stereotypes.

  2. David, you are an unstoppable force in the global stuttering community. Your words and actions are inspiring.

    “Do something, do it consistently, and things will start to happen.” – thank you for this.

  3. As a future SLP, it was so exciting to me to read your story. I hope someday I can inspire a PWS as much as that SLP that changed your life. I think it’s incredible that you take the time to educate others as well. Thank you for posting this!

    • Thank you!

      Like I said, I realized that as “the expert,” the more I can share with future SLPs the better the future will be for other people who stutter. It was a no-brainer for me, and I love doing it.

      The fact that you are here, educating yourself, reading about it, it’s already a good sign of your commitment. Let me know if I can help in any way!

  4. Talking, talking, talking. That’s how we make changes, that’s how people understand differences.

    Thanks for your contributions to the stuttering community.

    Pam

  5. I love this piece: “The twist is that I don’t care anymore. She did teach me techniques, and they do help, but getting rid of my stutter is not my goal in life anymore. I’m too busy living life and having fun now.”

    That deeply resonates with me as I feel the same way — so many other passions and priorities that outweigh trying to speak effectively using techniques.

    How do others get to that stage in your mind? Where they realize how they speak is just not that important in the grand scheme of things on a relative basis?

    • I always say that the best way to minimize the impact of stuttering in your life is to get better at other things, as many other things as you can. If you feel confident and capable as a soccer player/artist/student/volleyball player/writer/painter/etc, etc…. suddenly the stuttering become less important.

      Growing up I always thought that the stuttering was the first thing everybody noticed about me, and in a small scale I guess that was correct, but I was absolutely wrong in that the stuttering was not what they remembered of me after meeting me. My other qualities always outweighed my stuttering, and it wasn’t until I was older that I internalized and accepted that.

  6. “Get comfortable with stuttering. This will take time, but I learned that the more comfortable you are with your identity, the less it bothers you when someone gets you wrong.” – This is precisely what I try to include in the therapy sessions I conduct or supervise. Therapy (in the minds of SLPs and persons who stutter) should not be used interchangeably with “techniques”… it should be much more. It should enable persons who stutter to accept stuttering as a part of themselves, see themselves as interesting individuals who are so much more then their speech, and ultimately enable them to be free from the impact of stuttering, irrespective of the presence or absence of stuttering.

    • Thank you!

      I always say that my SLP changed my life, even though she didn’t do THAT much for my speech. She did teach me techniques and they do help, but the main thing thing she did for me was to make me accept myself, make me understand what stuttering was and wasn’t, and she gave me purpose. After all that, the stuttering just didn’t matter as much. By all standards my stuttering is still quite severe, but it’s impact on my well being is close to 0%. That’s the real cure.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. Thank you for your perspective and for taking the time to talk to students! As a future SLP, I can confirm that we truly appreciate those experiences.

  8. David, your work with students is inspiring. I stutter and I have talked to SLP students about stuttering, but I feel that what I’ve done is very little compared to how involved you are and how many other venues you have found to educate others. I am motivated to do more after reading your paper! Thank you for all the work you do to educate others.

  9. This was an amazing read. One day I hope to inspire the change you’ve already started to make. Thank you for taking the time to share your story! I think it’s stories like this that are so valuable to those of us who are studying to become SLP’s. Otherwise, we may never know the emotional toll a PWS deals with everyday.

    • Helping somebody communicate and express themselves is a BIG DEAL. Just by doing that know that you will be making an impact in somebody’s life.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Hello David,
    I am so inspired by you! I am a student pursuing a career in Speech Pathology and I too can attest to how beneficial and crucial it is for us to hear stories like yours. I recently did a report on Voluntary Stuttering and one of the things I focused on was the listener reactions. I now know how important desensitization is, and how important and powerful knowledge can be for society in regards to individuals with differences such as stuttering. Speaking out and educating those who are truly just ignorant to the details is immensely valuable. We can not expect people to understand us if we are unwilling to educate them.
    I see that you are multilingual I am curious about your experience stuttering in the other languages you speak. Do you find that your stutter is more prominent in certain languages?
    I have heard mixed responses when I have asked this question to others, so I would be delighted to hear your experience and add to my understanding on this matter.
    Thank you for the work you continue to do in this community.
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Jessie

    • Thanks for reading and for your question.

      I basically grew bilingual so in my head there wasn’t much difference between Spanish and English, but since I have learned other languages (or tried to) and I can tell you that it’s very variable.

      I feel that the more I use a language the easier it gets because I have to do less translating in my brain and I just start actually thinking in that language, but it’s still very challenging, especially when learning a language like Danish (don’t ask why I was learning Danish lol) that uses sounds that are not present in either Spanish or English.

      I have found that, for me, the more I practice the easier it gets, but take it with a grain of salt because that might apply just to me. I have learned that the interaction between stuttering and languages is very personal and everybody has their own opinions and experiences about it.

      Once again thanks, and feel free to ask follow-up questions or reach out if I can help in the future.

  11. Hello David,
    Thank you for sharing your story with us! It was a very inspiring read, and I hope to positively help PWS as a future SLP, as much as your SLP helped you. Take care!

  12. Hi David,

    It was such a pleasure to read about your journey as a person who stutters and your transition into playing such an active role in the education of stuttering to students / future SLPs, fellow people who stutter, and the many more children and adults who cross paths with you.

    I’m a Post Baccalaureate student studying to be a SLP and, if you’d be comfortable sharing, I’d love to learn more about any specific quotes, exercises, or techniques your incredible SLP, Dr. Freeman, practiced with you to help you understand your stuttering more. I know there’s SO much and it’s impossible to sum it up in one comment, but just curious if anything specific stuck out or comes to mind!

    As a future clinician, I hope to continue learning from others in my career who are making such a wonderful impact. I’m glad your experience with your SLP was so positive and that it was a stepping stone to all of the incredible work you’re doing to advocate for people who stutter.

    Thanks in advance for your time!

    Bree

    • Hello Bree,

      I think one of the most important things she did for me was give me the education I didn’t have growing up. I was very familiar with how it felt to stutter, but I was very ignorant about the science and the physiology behind it. Learning those things transformed my stuttering from “something that happened to me” to “something I do” and that was MASSIVE.

      Knowledge gave me control over it, and that made it less scary and more manageable.

  13. Hi David,
    You have such an inspiring and powerful story. I’m a post-bac student currently as California State University of Fullerton. I hope to be just as helpful and resourceful future SLP as Dr. Freeman was for you. Empathy is a key part of what I’m taking away from your story and the class I am in learning about stuttering.
    If you wouldn’t mind sharing, what are some of the holistic treatments and techniques that were effective for you? What did you experience during your sessions with Dr. Freeman that helped you gain confidence? I’m very interested in the holistic approach to therapy and how SLPs can customize their approach to fit the needs of each individual client.
    I enjoyed and felt uplifted by reading your story and would like the learn more.
    You’re doing incredible work and I’m excited to continue to learn from PWS and SLP’s like Dr.Freeman.
    Thank you for all that you do and continue to do!

    ~Elilta Zellalem.

    • Hello,

      Dr. Freeman really took a holistic approach with me. First she shared all she knew about stuttering. All the theories, the techniques, papers, websites… we did a lot of work!

      But once we got past that she introduced me to things like meditation and yog, which were just as helpful!

      She thought meditation would be helpful to silence the negative chatter in my mind and to become more aware of my feelings and emotions, and I can’t tell you enough good things about it. Meditation didn’t change my speech, but truly changed my life.

      And yoga surprises some but I also found it extremely helpful. She first recommended it because she noticed I used to get super tense while speaking and she thought developing body awareness via yoga would be helpful. Going to yoga (I have been going for EIGHT YEARS now!) helped me notice tension in my body as it arised and it helped me become more mindful of my body. I know yoga might not be for everybody, but for me it was and still is super important.

      Aside from that, helping your clients become great at something, anything, is very important. We grow up feeling that stuttering is the one thing everybody notice about us, but becoming good at sports, or writing, or anything else, makes you realize that stuttering is just ONE aspect of our lives, but we can excel and be known by more than that.

  14. Hi David,
    I am currently a graduate SLP student and I enjoyed your article about your journey on being a person who stutters. As a student, I was wondering what was one thing that helped you build your confidence up the most? I really enjoyed reading about how you found your confidence through knowledge and using different resources I was just curious about what pushed you most outside of your comfort zone and really helped you break out of your shell?

    Thank you,

    Taylor LoMonaco

    • Hi!

      My SLP really pushed me outside of my comfort zone by inviting me to talk to her university and later by telling me about groups like Toastmasters.

      Growing up with a stutter I never imagined I would enjoy public speaking, but joining a Toastmasters group made me realize that everybody is scared of public speaking, so my experiences were not that unique, and that helped me embrace the challenge.

      I have been a member of Toastmasters since 2016, I have given around 40 speeches since and I have won multiple speaking competitions. It’s been a fun ride!

  15. David,

    It’s so wonderful to hear about the TBLM initiative! I agree that a good number of people, particularly children, who behave ignorantly about specific challenges and differences simply don’t know any better, but as you stated, are eager to learn. Kudos to you and everyone involved with TBLM for bringing awareness and education!

    Ana Paula

    • Thank you very much for reading.

      Yes, I am really loving my involvement with TBLM because every week we reach around 150 students in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (and beyond, via zoom) and I can see first hand how in just 2 hours we can educate and create so much compassion in those kids. They go from laughing about how I speak to ask questions and you can see the light in their brains turn on as they “get it.”

      One conversation a time is how we make change!

  16. Hi David!

    I really enjoyed reading your story. I really appreciate your approach: “Do something, do it consistently, and things will start to happen”. You are truly inspirational.

    It was very inspiring to hear you began working with the non-profit To Be Like Me. I find the meaning of the program to be very important to teach younger generations empathy and kindness for those who are different than us. It is also important to educate those who have little knowledge on the differences and disabilities people can have. It is also very interesting that children can interact with others through compassion and inclusion! As a college student myself, it took me many years to be able to have conversations with people who were different from me. I believe early education is a fantastic way to teach others about different walks of life!

    One question I have is do you have a specific story that sticks out to you while working with the program? Do you have a favorite interaction with any of the children that was truly meaningful to you?

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    MacKenzie

    • Hi, thank you for reading!

      I have found myself to be amazed and surprised by the program, because while I am very familiar with the life of a person who stutters, I was very ignorant about how is life for somebody with Down syndrome, or with visual impairments or in a wheelchair. It just showed me how much we worry about our own problems but we sometimes are very ignorant about somebody else’s experiences.

      Paying attention, asking questions and being open to learn and understand is the best way to create compassion and empathy.

  17. Hi David,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us! It was truly inspirational. If there’s one thing I have to say, it’s NEVER STOP. You are making such a big impact in the lives of those you cross paths with. Like you had said, your involvement can change someone’s life. Your words have definitely changed mine! As for Dr. Freeman, you speak so highly of her we surely need more SLP’s just like her. Do you have any advice for students like myself hoping to one day become a Speech Therapist? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Take Care,
    Julianna Arellano

    • Thanks for reading!

      I always say be aware that you are working with an unique individual that comes to you with their own experiences and their own baggage. What you see with your eyes might not match what they feel inside, so be receptive and try to understand where are they coming from, to better serve their specific needs.

      Everybody will come to you with a “fix me” mentality, but it’s up to you and them to figure out exactly how that “fix” will look like. For some it will be techniques, for some it will be acceptance and for some it will be a combination of both.

      Gather all the information and knowledge you can, but be ready to start from zero with each client, there is no one size fits all when it comes to stuttering.

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