Friday, February 27, 2009

Hope springs eternal for the most interesting of places with your parents.

Good evening everyone. I write this blog tonight not only inspired, but for the first time hopeful that somewhere out there, a future teammate of mine may read this and realize that it is very possible to have a relationship with parents who understand what it means to stutter. I never had any kind of real relationship with my parents when it came to my speech. Many times it was just something that was avoided at the dinner table. I can remember as a young child trying to form a sentence and say what my day was about, and I'd get the sensation of a car spinning its wheels in the snow as my vocal chords locked up...which resulted in my parents rolling their eyes until the words came out of my mouth.

Tonight after work, I went with my dad to visit the grave of his father, my grandfather. Most of us feel very uncomfortable going to cemetaries for the simple reason someday we, too, will leave this earth, but with the hope we made it a much better place than it was when arrived. I never knew my grandfather as well as I would have liked to. Of course, part of that could be attributed to the fact that he lived 3,000 miles away in San Diego. Yet he came out for the Jewish holidays, and I relished those times. He never had the luxury of a college education, because of the Great Depression. He was honest and fair, and well-read to boot. In fact, from what I recall of him, he could have gone head-to-head with some great political orators-and he probably would have given them a run for the money. As I spoke to him, I talked about how much the National Stuttering Association gave to me, and how I give back to them because it's the right thing to do-and because I will make a difference. I told him how I received the shock of my life to win the Volunteer of the Year award for 2008, and how I wish he could have seen me accept it. And when I spoke to him, I stuttered several times. I didn't care at all, I had so much that I wanted to say, so much I needed to. I also told him that someday I will forgive my parents for their first impressions about the NSA. They were wondering why I wanted to go to Long Beach for my first conference. It's been the greatest ride of my life so far.

As my dad and I were driving home, I started to cry openly. I am very emotional and don't apologize for it. I cry at weddings, I cried at the end of "A Walk To Remember" (and the people who think it's uncool to show emotion needs to have their heads examined). My dad pulled the car over, and for the next two hours, we talked about my stuttering-the rough days, how far I've come, and what needs to be done next. My dad started to apologize, and I told him he didn't need to. I know my dad doesn't know what it feels like to sometimes struggle having a bad day with my speech. But he said one thing that I focused on intently. He said that when I get married (if I do), and have children, and one of them stutters, he knows that child will have the very best parent in the whole world. Maybe he really gets me after all. Some of us are lucky to have the type of relationship that we see on "Gilmore Girls," where we can talk to our parents about everything and anything. Others are estranged, and live their lives the way they want, regardless if their parents disagreed. But I want to send a message here, and this is very empowering: If you stutter, and you feel your parents do not understand you, talk to them. You'll always regret the things you didn't say. In some ways, the more I think about it, maybe it was poetic justice that my dad and I talked about my speech at the gravesite: Because I buried the negative feelings and anger I had toward my parents there, and a new relationship formed. I know there will be hard times ahead for both of us, and we may want to go at it sometimes. But hope springs eternal...sometimes in the most interesting of places.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Respect others...and their points of view.

Good evening everyone,

I was enjoying two slices of pizza today on this cold, raw day here in the metro New York area, and I decided to sit down in the restaurant, instead of picking them up. Maybe it was coincidence, but I sat underneath a framed photo that had a list of Italian proverbs on them. And the very first one said "Respect others and you will be respected."

Those who read the blog know that I have a tremendous amount of respect and wholly dedicated devotion to my fellow NSA chapter leaders. Regardless of what we believe in our own private lives, we can come together for the triumph of the NSA and to support people who stutter everywhere.

One of the most interesting topics (or spirited debates if you want to call it that) is the use of fluency-enhancing devices and intensive workshops. Now when you attend an NSA conference, many times you will find exhibitors who will represent companies who sell these products. The NSA's official policy has always been, and will continue to be, that we make no endorsement of any product featured. However, we do acknowledge that for some people using these products may be a good source of developing fluency. Sometimes in our zest, we can say how passionate we feel about something, but regardless, the other person may take it as "putting them down."

I was thinking about this today...I am a very big hockey fan, and a "student of the game," who enjoys learning about strategy and chemistry. Today, the local NBC affiliate showed the NHL Game of the Week, which featured two of the game's top superstars: Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I saw the highlight on the TSN web site, and toward the end of the second period, when the Capitals were ahead, Ovechkin decided to introduce his shoulder to Crosby's, and that followed by Crosby retaliating with trying to slam him over his team's bench. After Crosby got restrained, Ovechkin mockingly waved to him.

Now understand these are two fierce competitors, but yet with different points of view about how to be a leader, and a person. Crosby will never be described as "fiery," yet he is subtle with the way he approaches life on the ice. Ovechkin on the other hand, is more passionate, loud, and absolutely loves to be the center of attention. I do not begrudge him for that, but there's something to be said for his gesture to another competitor. It all boils down to the proverb I mentioned: "Respect others and you will be respected." We can all agree to disagree, especially when it comes to issues involving stuttering. But no matter what you believe, make sure that we understand other points of view and where they are coming from.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Alex Rodriguez is MacBeth..and what we can draw from that.

Good morning everyone. I apologize for the lateness of the hour that I am posting this. It's approaching 1 a.m. here on the East Coast, although in the suburbs of NYC life really starts at 3 a.m. Yesterday, the center of the New York Yankees universe descended on Tampa, as superstar Alex Rodriguez held his press conference after confirming he took steroids. And as I watched it, I realized that as a person who stutters, I actually shared something in common with him. But there's one difference between us: extremes. The only difference is, I learned now that I don't have to have everyone like me, as I said in my last blog. Please allow me to explain. Although Alex has never come out and said this, many of his so-called "handlers" say that he wants to be liked more than anything in the world. He can have all the records and fame he wants, but he just wants to be liked. And supposedly, that's his ambition. Unfortunately, what we just witnessed was an extreme. He wanted to be liked so badly because of his achievements, he wanted to do it at all costs. And now, he's going to have to live with the consequences.

As a person who stutters, that was me throughout high school, college, and my early twenties. I wanted people to like me and want to hang out. But in the situations that I was presented with that, my speech was so horrendous that my palms sweated and all I could say was "Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom," and I could probably visualize what they were saying when the doors were closed. I decided to focus my hurt and angst into academics-and when it was all over, I graduated with very high honors: Dean's List, magna cum laude. But I paid a very high price. I went through the most demanding, socially growing years of my life all alone. I wanted it so badly that I too, took it to an extreme.

I often draw a lot from reading Shakespeare. The saying "ahead of his time" can apply to the number of fingers on both your hands: Andy Warhol, Picasso, etc. Watching the show in Tampa made me realize that A-Rod, unbeknownst to him, has turned into a modern-day MacBeth. MacBeth's ambition was to be king of England. As the Thane of Glamis, he and Banquo defeat the armies of Norway and Ireland and for that, he is to be awarded the title of Thane of Cawdor, where he starts to realize he can have all the power he desires. Consumed with rage and extreme ambition, he begins to eliminate all the heirs to the throne until he, too, falls prey to his flaw-the need to want more. A-Rod wanted to belong so badly, he was willing to push himself going outside the rules-considering he has immense talent to begin with. It was just never enough for him.

We often hear of type-A personalities in this world. People who are perfectionists. But as a person who stutters, I don't need to be perfect. The only perfect people are dead people, because they have no problems. Everyone has challenges to be met. If you met me four years ago, the slightest comment about my speech would have set me off. I remember being set up on a date and the woman came right out and said "Is your speech a defect?" and I was like "A defect? Cars have defects. Appliances have defects. I am not a defect." That date ended shortly after. These days, if someone makes a comment about my speech, I refuse to revert into a condescening lecturer. I speak about my stuttering with passion, enthusiasm, and maturity. That's what the NSA has given me, among many other things.

If someone doesn't like you because of your speech, all you can do is continue to represent yourself to the best of your ability. Accept this simple axiom: "I am not a stammerer. I am not a stutterer. I am a PERSON who stutters." They say for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. How you react is a reflection on you. Don't be Alex Rodriguez.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The one person you really need to love.....

Good evening everyone. I wanted to devote this edition of the blog to the weekend that just passed, which was Valentine's Day. Now depending on if you're single or in a relationship, this is either the greatest day to celebrate love or the absolute worst. I'm not here to discuss that, though. But what I found interesting is that finally, after a long, long time, I realize now the old cliche really is true. You have to love yourself before anyone else can love you. And for a long time as a person who stutters, I never did. I was angry with myself, often wondering why I was being "punished" by having a speech impediment. I'd speak at the dinner table and see my parents exasperated, as they rolled their eyes. And I realized that I hated myself for everything.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel held at Columbia University with a graduate class, and one of the panelists talked about "the psychology of stuttering." It was definitely very insightful. You often hear throughout life that people talk about certain circumstances that define them, have a positive/negative impact on them. For so long, especially in my adolescent years, I felt things deterioate to the point where I had become so desensitized that I really did not care. I became a person who could care less...and now I couldn't care more about what it means to help people who stutter. It's true that we all have moments that define us. However, ultimately the responsibility to feel good about who we are lies with us.

If you are in the negativity zone, GET OUT. Take my word for it-no one wants to associate with someone who feels negative. We all feel sad at times. We all feel like giving up. I would walk into a restaurant and eat by myself, and I would look around seeing other people laughing, having a good time, and I would begin to think "If only they found out I stuttered....I wonder what they'd think of me." Well, I know there are people who don't like me. And that's OK if they don't. Because I'll still like them back.

My birthday is coming up on April 21, and I'll be 31. Tonight I unearthed my high school yearbook, and was looking back at my classmates. Some of them changed for the better, others for the worse. Some are married with kids, others are still waiting for the happily ever after. We may spend our entire lives trying to find it. But once you love yourself, really commit to doing so, you may find that you had the happily ever after all along. You see, the best relationship isn't with the opposite sex, it's with yourself.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And now, the NSA workshops

Good evening everyone. Tonight I want to talk about the "crown jewels" of the NSA conference, which are the workshops. My first conference was in Long Beach, Calif., and after I left, I realized that the best part, besides camaraderie, is this: Learning. Everyone can learn something from each other, it doesn't matter if you're 14 learning from 14, 20 learning from 60. As the adage goes, in order to learn, one must be willing to be taught. If you think you know everything about stuttering, then you need to check the ego at the door. I learn from my teammates every day. Here are some sample descriptions of NSA workshops that have recently taken place: I am sure you will find them enlightening and inspirational as I do. The first is "Letting It All Hang Out: Being Real With Our Stuttering": "This workshop will explore the process of being "real" in all aspects of our lives, including our stuttering. Many people are extremely uncomfortable with their public stuttering, and often to great lengths to hide it, deny it, or avoid speaking situations. Both presenters have experience with being covert about the stuttering, and the enormous price that is often paid for choosing to hide stuttering. Many parallels can be drawn between the quest for being real in general and being authentic as people who stutter. There are powerful rewards to be had when we embrace every part of us that makes us unique and genuine. You will be able to describe how fear of being genuine about stuttering can negatively impact us. By talking about this process, we can be one step closer to acceptance of our true selves." Here's another seminar given last year, with an appropriate title to boot-"What Makes MY Stuttering Volcano Erupt"- "Are you fluent in some situations and verbally challenged in others? Can you speak no problem when alone or with someone who you are comfortable with? In some situations with strangers or authority figures do you find you are suddenly verbally challenged? What was it that triggered your response or responses, where did your triggers come from, what is at your stuttering core that drives your stuttering triggerd. This workshop will look at stuttering triggers, how to recognize them, how to be aware of them, and how to deal with them." Those are but two workshops that can force you to look at how you stutter and inspire you to be ready to make a difference in your life. These workshops are the NSA. They are the NSA at its finest, when together people can make a difference and achieve greater goals where everyone wins. I'm looking forward to Arizona's workshops...and you just may see me present one as well. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Zona, baby, Zona! Part II

Good evening everyone. In the last edition of the blog, I focused on the excitement that the National Stuttering Association has opened registration for their 2009 conference to be held in Scottsdale, Ariz. I wanted to take this opportunity to address some more questions that are usually asked about the conference. The first one involves the hotel. Usually we have some attendees who may say "I have a friend/relative who lives in the area, is it necessary to stay at the hotel where the conference is?" We are aware that people may want to save money, and if you can stay free with someone else, that benefits doesn't benefit the NSA. We are a nonprofit organization-we get no funding from any level of government-state, county, local, or federal. To pose an analogy, think of those concerts you see on PBS. After the show, they have pledge drives because they say "We want to keep bringing these shows to you, but we need your support." All the money we raise, goes back to the NSA. One person might say, "Well, it's only one room." Look at it from our perspective: one room for four nights at $139 a night equals $556.00. Now what if we lost out on ten rooms? That's $5,560.00. Here are some other reasons-you are right in the heart of everything...conference central. You never know who you'll meet, what you might want to do...staying at the conference hotel gives you great flexibility. The second question is what to expect about the weather. Arizona gets hot....just like Paris Hilton and her catch phrase. If you attend the conference in July, you'll see we will have our first ever golf tournament with air-conditioned golf carts and lavish pools. All I can say is make friends with Poland Spring and Dasani bottled'll be drinking a lot of it LOL. Part III of the Arizona blog will deal with the types of workshops available. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Zona, baby, Zona!-Part I.

Good evening everyone,

OK so the subject matter doesn't exactly resemble the enthusiastic "Vegas, baby, Vegas!" line made famous from the movie "Swingers." But for members of the National Stuttering Association, it's all about Arizona-as in the 2009 conference. I've talked a great deal in my postings about these conferences and what they can do for your confidence and future success. To this day, I still smile with delight that 650+ teammates attended the last conference in North Jersey. But we still have so many people who have not heard about the NSA...or they have and are afraid to attend the conference. I will say this emphatically: if you ever wanted to find out what the NSA is about, now is the time. Arizona is the place. Don't talk about wanting to about going.

For those people who stutter attending these conferences (and please understand, the conference is open to people who do not stutter as well-those who support people who stutter, SLPs, and graduate students too!) who are first-timers, you are given very special treatment. Since are there so many people in attendance, first-timers are required to attend a special workshop designed just for them, where you will meet others who are also here for their debut experience. Some of my teammates have attended every conference ever since the inception, when the NSA was formerly known as the NSP, National Stuttering Project. We have seminars taught by regular members and professionals. We have dazzling social activities: this year it's the return of karaoke, an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game, a night out at the Phoenix Zoo Starry Safari, a pool party, and oh yes...there's a little event which consists of a live auction and banquet, where we go until 3 a.m., and coming from a Long Islander in the suburbs of the world's greatest city, life begins at 3 a.m. LOL.

The NSA conference is our biggest (and only) fundraiser for the year. We all know that the economy has been decimated-banks closing, stocks plummeting, jobs being slashed left and right. Many nonprofits are facing extinction because the money is not available. Every year at the live auction, we can count on our members standing up and being counted, as I like to say. 100 percent of all the monies raised via the conference go right back to the NSA....never in anyone's pocket. At the live auction, we are asked to imagine a world where the NSA didn't exist. I shudder to think what that would be like. The NSA gave me hope. It gave me my life back, in so many ways. It is my calling to help them out anyway I can. Now more than ever, the need is urgent. By attending a conference, you can help support the NSA and as a person who stutters, make the greatest investment-in yourself. I have met families from all over this country, speakers from all over the world. Families often share with others comments like "My son/daughter is having the time of her life. I wish this organization was around when I was growing up." Simply put, you can't put a price tag on camaraderie.

I want to share with those reading some background information. Our conference is taking place July 8-12, 2009, at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is an immediate suburb east of Phoenix. We have arranged a very generous hotel rate of $139.00 a night, and considering this is a four-star resort, that's almost unheard of. If you wish to reserve, you must mention you are with the NSA. The hotel site is, for those who live outside of the West Coast, flying is the best way to go. Sky Harbor International (PHX) will be the closest airport, and we will offer a shuttle service, since it will be a 20-minute ride to the hotel. You also have the option of requesting a roommate if you'd like, to save money. We will try and match you up with the best choice. However, there is a registration fee. If you register before the end of March, you can lock in the cheapest rate possible. After that, it goes up until the conference. All the activities are EXTRA...and are distributed on a FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVE basis. Don't get shut out. Last year activities included a Subway Series (YANKEES vs. Mets) game, a "see-the-city-on-your-own" tour, and boat cruise around New York Harbor at night.

If you are a speech and language pathologist, some of our seminars will be eligible for CEU credits too. There are limitless chances to network and more. One of the questions we're often asked is, "How do you choose where a conference is held?" I'll be happy to explain. There are certain criteria that we look for when hosting a conference-some hotels can easily accommodate a conference if it's 200 people or so. That's just not possible with the NSA. We need a major-league caliber type of hotel that can offer us numerous spaces to set up shop. Some cities for example, are beautiful to visit, but just would not be able to meet what we need. We had the conference in Nashville, and it just didn't work. As the NSA grows, we need regions that can keep up with us. We want to make sure our conferences are affordable not only for families, but for everyone who wants to attend. Some cities we've held previous conferences include: Parsippany, N.J. (That's the North Jersey one last year), Atlanta, Long Beach, Calif., Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, etc. It's always fun to wonder where next year's will be...believe me, it will be here before you know it!

I will answer some more questions that are often asked in part II of my blog. However, I will leave you with this. If you have any questions, please check out the NSA web site at, and if you have any questions you want to ask me offline, please leave me a comment and I will respond right away. The teammates are standing up for each other. Will you be one of them?

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Does the window close?

Good evening everyone!

As the memories of Super Bowl XLIII fade away, taking with it people's hopes and dreams of profiting in the office pools (yes, we know you're out there, hell my dad lost his shot at $1,000 thanks to Larry Fitzgerald), I can't help but ask myself this question: Does the window really close?

For any professional sports team, the ultimate goal is to win championships. That's just how success is judged. In some parts of the U.S., a winning season is enough for fans. "We met expectations," is a comment heard often. However, you have different markets where every year is described as "win now." You've probably heard this term tossed around, but I think it's interesting to discuss. "Win now" refers to the limited window of opportunity a team has to win a title. Once a team enters that "win now" mode, it simply means time is running out and the window is closing. The players are getting older. The team may not have money to sign players the next few years. We can't wait for development, and the list goes on down the line. And nine times out of ten, teams in the "win now" mode fall flat on their face, and their goals get set back a few years instead of focusing on the big picture.

As a person who stutters, I felt this way for a long time. When you're a teenager, fighting to belong in the social jungle, facing the pressures of speaking in front of teachers and peers can be enough to shatter you. Multiply that by five times a week, and well....let's just say the memories never go away. I felt that stuttering had closed "my window," before it even started. I had struggled with speech therapy in my early years, at one point going through several therapists in a few years time, learning a new approach with each one: easy onset, airflow, stretching. But after getting frustrated, I felt the window had closed. You know the feeling-the best example I can give is looking for a car to buy. No one wants last year's model, or even the one a few years before that. Everyone's attracted to the bigger, better deal.

I know some people who stutter who have accepted that fact, but do not feel the need to go to speech therapy. I respect that. We all have the right to think and act as we please. But if your window is "closing," I want you to know it will close only if you close. If you want to keep it open, ask yourself, what are you prepared to do about it in order to keep it open? Maybe it means going to speech therapy twice a week, instead of one. Maybe it means practicing your speech with a tape recorder and reading out of a book, which I've done many times. Or maybe it means doing something you wouldn't do. Call up a restaurant, and ask about a certain item on a menu. Go to a train station and ask where the schedules are. Every time you do this, you open that window a little at a time. Until that time when you continue to evolve as a person who stutters, and the rays of sunshine pierce your soul.

You should never have to feel you're in a "win now mode." If you find yourself feeling that you have a pressure to "be fluent now," let that go by the wayside. And know the window is always's just how far you want to push.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.