Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speaking is power....and power achieved is power perceived.

Good evening everyone,

Greetings from Long Island. I wanted to share with everyone another golden opportunity that I had to make my voice heard and educate people about stuttering and the NSA. A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail about some activities that one of New York's sister NSA chapters (Manhattan, aka New York County) was planning. The immediate New York metropolitan area is thriving with several chapters: Long Island, Queens County (Queens), Brooklyn (Kings County) and a chapter in Central Jersey as well. And of course, I can't forget my neighbors on the other side of the Thruway: in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Sarah Sheridan is an adjunct professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, and she had invited people who stutter to speak at her graduate-level class for future speech and language pathologists. I was so excited and eager to do so!

For people who stutter, there is such an overwhelming fear of public speaking that it can be paralyzing. Imagine a simple, routine task that is done everyday, such as ordering a meal in a restaurant. Or going up to the box office at the local multiplex on a Friday night and struggling to say the phrase "One for......and follow with the title." How about calling up a retail business to ask a question, only to have the clerk on the other end wonder if it is some person pulling a prank. For some people, they are deathly afraid, and much rather would have a root canal done than do speaking of any kind.

I used to feel the same way about public speaking. If you met me several years ago, pre-NSA, I was so quiet you couldn't even get me to speak about anything, even if I wanted to. I owe the NSA my life in many ways for sparking a metamorphisis and developing a new, confident persona. It wasn't until last year that I took a giant step and started my public speaking at the request of Tammy Flores, the executive director of the NSA, and a woman who epitomizes the word "unselfish." If you believe that what you give comes back to you, and I do, then Tammy is truly a very wealthy woman. I was given the chance to speak at a graduate class at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry last year, and I was feeling so powerful that I could have flown home. I e-mailed Sarah and told her I would gladly do it.

So this past Monday night, I was in a panel with other speakers: A young woman named Tamara who also stuttered, she was a client of Sarah's, Sarah's father, Mike, who came with his wife from the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a speech pathologist, Andrew, from NYC. All of us shared our experiences together, taking questions from the students. And the best part, at the end, Sarah broke the class off into three groups, where the students asked us questions, and some very good ones too: Among them-"What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and your stutter was gone?" or "Do you think your stuttering has prevented you from accomplishing things you wanted to?" My group was composed of Katie, Stephanie, Zena, Jennifer, and Casey. I enjoyed the interaction and the follow-up questions they asked.

As I went back home on the 10:33 p.m. train from Penn Station, I was reflecting on the students who would be future speech pathologists. Every SLP has different ways of approaching stuttering-after all, what works for one person may not work for someone else. But what makes a good speech therapist? Sure, having a strong academic background is important. But here are some qualities that I think are required: Dedication. Empathy. A desire to push you to be a good speaker, even if you fall off the proverbial ladder, that SLP will encourage you to get back up. I saw those qualities at WPU, I saw them at Dobbs Ferry, and I'll see them everywhere I speak.

There's no need to be afraid of public speaking. You have the power to say what you want. No matter how long it takes, or if the other person is rolling their eyes. Say it. Feel it. Believe it. The feeling you get will be such a rush.

They say that hindsight is always 20/20. Growing as a youngster, there were times when I wanted to speak and my mom would shush me, saying "It's not the right time or place." I was more overprotected than Britney Spears. (cue sarcastic laugh track). The truth is, it was the right time and place. I wanted to speak and express myself. It's not too late to reverse the past. If you're afraid of public speaking, start out small. Work your way up incrementally. It will pay for itself over time.

Before I end my blog, I want to extend a special thank you to Sarah Sheridan for welcoming me to her class, my "study group" mates, and to all the SLP students in general. I wish you all and the future SLP students every success.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.

Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard!

Steven Kaufman

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Special lessons from a positively radiant NSA member

Good evening everyone,

Welcome to another posting on my blog. Although the weather today was absolutely horrendous as the wind and rain were howling, today turned out to be pretty sunny from my point of view. You may be asking why I feel this way...well, today I went into New York City to meet up with one of my NSA colleagues. Last year, I met Kathy Filer, who resides in South Jersey. She made the trip on New Jersey Transit up I-95 to attend an empowerment workshop on the Lower East Side, and while it is always great to meet up with another person who stutters, the most important time spent with her was talking about life experiences and learning a very important theme: We have to say what we need to say, no matter how trivial we might think it is.

C.S. Lewis, who was the author behind the novel "The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe" (and I believe the Narnia series as well), had a quote attributed to him which goes "Experience is often the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn." Hindsight is often 20/20, and there's always bound to be one circumstance where we wish we could turn back the clock and reverse something we did. But we can't, so we must learn from those experiences and apply them. When I was in high school and college, I had some teachers and professors who simply wouldn't let me participate in discussions, even though if I had something to contribute. I would raise my hand and either I would be ignored, or a teacher would say "Steven, I just don't have time to hear you." In retrospect, I would have wanted to insist that I be heard. But at that time, I struggled with my confidence (more on this later) and would not have been able to say what I wanted to. But as I attended these NSA conferences, I learned how to speak and be heard. I saw I was worth it and people were wanting to hear me speak. But importantly, I was going to make them hear me. Even if it was smiling to say "hello" or to tell a story. And when you discover that you can take back the power from stuttering, it's such an adrenaline rush. And you want more of it, and the faster the better.

When I was talking to Kathy over lunch (and I know this is a shameless plug, but next time you're in NYC and want good Italian, please check out Tony Di Napoli's at East 83rd Street & 2nd Avenue. Try the ziti bolognese), we were talking about our experiences. I told her that at one time I was a painfully shy person whose stutter was so severe that I had adopted the credo "Don't speak unless you're spoken to." Those of you who know me at the conference might be surprised and wonder "Is this the same Steven Kaufman?" Well, no it wasn't. Before I attended the conference in Long Beach, Calif., I felt so alone and alienated from humankind. I felt like I had been judged and had to accept my sentence, which was to be lonely and not to speak to anyone, as tempted as I might have been. It seems so long ago, but I don't even think about those days because they're history and so is the person who felt that way. Now I am one who can say accept he will have good days and bad days with his speech, and be OK with it. Someone who can walk into a diner and not have to worry about fear at all.

Kathy gave me one point which I believe is so important in so many ways. As a person who stutters, you need to say what you need to say. Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone. And whatever happens, you don't have to look back-all you need to do is to look forward and know the sun will rise tomorrow. At one time, Kathy acknowledged to me she was in the running a few years ago (final two candidates) for the executive director position of the NSA, which eventually went to Elaine Saitta, someone who I am also proud to call a colleague. Talking to Kathy, she exudes confidence and a radiant outlook on life that rubs fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it rubbed off on our server too hahaha.

Having a radiant view on life will make not only your life brighter, but other ones as well. In my "A is for Attitude" seminar, which I will plan on giving in Arizona 2009, I spoke about negativity. No one likes a person who is constantly negative, because they bring down everyone else. People are attracted to those who smile, who approach others. When I was walking to meet Kathy at her destination, I noticed so many passersby who were talking on their cell phone, so engrossed in their conversation, or they were focused on the new latte they got from Starbucks. I had a smile and I said "hello" to everyone I passed, and no one even responded to me. I could have gotten annoyed about it, but I like being outgoing and congenial. It will come back to you and more. If you know someone who chronically complains and is negative, smile at them. Make an effort to talk to them. Ask them how their life is....and watch the results. You can turn them from a negative person into one who's alive and kicking.

As I was walking back to Penn Station at 34th & 7th to take the Long Island Railroad back home, I was thinking about how it took me so long to find the NSA. I've met so many members who say they wish they found it sooner. But you know what.....the only thing that matters is we've found it. And for those out there who still experience the pain, isolation, and loneliness of being a person who stutters might condemn them to...I say to them please join the NSA and realize why it's the greatest fan club on earth. It's place where we support each other's work, we laugh, we cry....we dance the night away on the last night at the conference, but WE BELONG.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.

Until next time, stand up and be counted....and make your voice heard. Because the world wants to hear you...and they need to.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The fall is upon's cold but my passion for the NSA is ignited!

Hello everyone, and greetings from the suburbs of Long Island, New York!

I would like to welcome you to the inaugural posting of my blog. If you stutter, please take a moment to realize you are about to become part of a truly amazing, inspirational community. You're going to find out that people are going to want to hear you speak, but most importantly, they're going to need to hear you and the message you have to say.

I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am the leader of the Long Island chapter of the National Stuttering Association. I am 30 years old, and have accomplished many things in my life, both personal and professional goals. I was the first member of my family to graduate with very high honors. I am a friend to some, a confidant to others, but most importantly, and this is the proudest title I have held, I am a chapter leader. I am a person who has embraced leadership, although at one time I was reluctant to do so. But now I have discovered who I really am, and what I am capable of. I have found a purpose in life, and something that brings me a tremendous amount of joy, and that's helping my peers who stutter, as well as speech therapists (current and training) who will embrace their challenges to help the next generation of people who stutter. Whenever I hold my NSA chapter meetings, one rule above all else is followed, and I make sure everyone respects it: We will never, ever, use the word "stammerer." It is always a "person who stutters." When people hear the words "stammerer," they automatically assume a person will resemble Porky Pig or a certain character from the 1988 movie "A Fish Called Wanda," which are two of the worst examples of stuttering under the sun.

As a chapter leader, one of my main responsibilities is to think of pertinent topics and discuss them as it relates to stuttering. Since we are now in October, one theme that comes to mind is Halloween and stuttering. Stay with me on this....for some, we think of Halloween and the images of trick-or-treating, dressing up in outrageous costumes. But we also know it can be a scary holiday. Some of us have all nighters where we watch every gory movie possible...hell, one of my friends last Halloween watched the "Saw" movies, cut and then the uncut version. And that leads me to my thought: What scares you as a person who stutters? Maybe it's walking up to the multiplex box office on a Saturday night when so many other people are there. You know the feeling...your heart starts to race. Everyone's eyes begin to fixate on you. You feel like you are petri dish on a microscope, being examined and probed every which way. Or perhaps you're waiting to order in a restaurant, the server comes up to you, and the words can't come out. You've become the human version of a car, spinning its wheels in the snow, en route to destination nowhere.

For me, what scared me more often than not was the reaction of what people might say, or do, when they found out I stutter. Growing up, I felt like my stuttering was my cross to bear throughout life. I will never forget one time this past May when I was taking a trip to Boston on Amtrak and I went in the snack car to buy a container of yogurt. I was trying to say "blueberry" but it seemed like when one technique failed, another one would be put into play by me and that failed too. The person behind the counter said "Are you s-s-s-s-ure?" followed by a snicker. If that was me five years ago, I probably would have really lost it. I am someone who is very levelheaded, and it takes a lot to irritate me. But joining the National Stuttering Association, among other things, has given me the power to embrace my stutter and not be afraid. It's allowed me to grow and flourish and know I have a place where I can go to and express myself without being judged and ridiculed. Some people search all their lives for that one place, and never find it at all. I am one of the lucky ones, and more on that in my closing paragraph.

Our speech patterns, depending on how your stutter is, can vary from mild-to-moderate, which is what mine is, to very severe, including facial tics and gestures. I would like to think the world is a tolerant and understanding place. We all know otherwise: there's issues involving so many things-racism, discrimination based on height, weight, gender, and so on. But what I have found is my stutter has showed me how to be compassionate, and not just toward my peers who stutter-toward other people in general. We all have our battles to fight-health, mental, and otherwise. It took me something nearly fatal to make me realize that the most important thing in life isn't what car you drive.

An interesting topic that I wanted to address at my NSA chapter meeting in October was the presidential debate. The NSA is a non-political organization and even though I could, I am not going to use my blog to determine who the next Commander-in-Chief should be. This year Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, hosted the debate, and I studied the candidates communications to each other and the moderator. Nobby Lewandoski is a motivational speaker and someone who, if you ever make it to the NSA annual conference (Scottsdale, Ariz., here I come 2009!) should meet and observe. He founded his own accounting firm and made a very interesting statement which I believe runs far deep than when you first look at it: "Do not confuse the difference between speaking and communicating." I do not have a problem communicating-I am very outspoken and passionate about the NSA. Yes, I may have an issue speaking, but I have achieved a level of comfort about it. For some people who stutter, this is a journey we all must take. I promise there will be hard times. And I promise there may be occasions when you want to scream and lash out at the world. But when you reach that level, oh, how an amazing experience it really is!

Now, I want to apply the debate with a twist. As a person who stutters, what kind of debater would you be? Would you shy away from this kind of scenario? Would you rehearse "talking points" with your coach, Barack Obama and John McCain did? Or would you say "Damn it, I don't care if this moderator cuts me off, I am going to say what's on my mind. You're going to hear it, and you'll like it!" Well, can I be honest with you? A couple of years ago, I would have been the first debater. But now, I'm the third one. I've spoken at graduate-level classes at Mercy College in upstate New York (and will do so again in December!) and I'll be speaking at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., next week. There's nothing to be scared of. Don't let fear prevent you from accomplishing what you want and being heard!

Driving home tonight, I had one hand on the wheel and the other on the radio, and I heard "You Gotta Be" by Desiree. Although it's a one-hit wonder, one line in the song stands out to me: "Stand up and be counted." People who stutter should have an obligation to do that. We can make a difference and leave our impact on society. At our annual conference in Parsippany, N.J., we had 650+ people...a record! I know we will have even more in Arizona. Please, whatever it takes, if you are a person who stutters, who feels lost, ashamed, embarrassed, feeling like you have to live outside the rest of the world, I implore you, please come to this event. In a few short days, you won't recognize the person you are. In fact, you won't even WANT to know the person you are.

I will close on this statement: This past year, I was honored and truly grateful to have received the Volunteer of the Year Award for 2008. When I accepted my award, I spoke about a special date in history: July 4, 1939. On that day, Lou Gehrig, the "Iron Horse," retired from baseball due to a condition called ALS, that would later be known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He said, "Fans, I have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Well, I am the luckiest. I am lucky to have found a welcoming community. I am lucky to have met people from all over the U.S. and the world-New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Minnesota, California, Texas, Massachusetts, and the list goes on. I am lucky in so many ways. I have bad speech days too....but I also know I will never be alone anymore.

My name is Steven Kaufman....and I am a person who stutters.

Until next month.........stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

And please, check out the National Stuttering Association's homepage at too!