Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stuttering and Washington, never made more beautiful music!

Good evening everyone. As I write this edition of the blog, I literally am feeling such an overwhelming pride and deep indebtedness for the National Stuttering Association and what can happen when teammates from different regions come together for a special event, dedicated with one purpose: to celebrate and embrace how wonderful being a teammate who stutters can be.

A few months ago, I approached one of my teammates, who is the leader of the Rockville, Md. chapter(Rockville is an affluent suburb located off I-270, eight miles northwest of Washington, DC) and asked him if he would be interested in coordinating with me to set up a workshop with a fellow teammate and former chapter leader of a Texas region. This teammate has accomplished a great deal in his life, such as working for a software company for 35 years and having a son who serves his country as a fighter pilot. He has traveled to different NSA chapters hosting his workshop, designed to teach how to "stutter successfully." To be honest, we were unsure if we could make this happen. It took emails, long distance calls, conference calls, interactions with other parties (such as a student chapter of NSSLHA, the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association). But on May 30th, "Successful Stuttering: It's Time To Live" took place at George Washington University, with 20+ teammates from all over the East Coast: Long Island, New York City, Baltimore, DC, Maryland, Virginia (and even a teammate who drove five and a half hours to see the speaker) gathered to learn about empowerment and motivation. We learned about a golden key and if it can unlock the doors to our personal freedom to stutter. We learned that we do have a choice: to make a day a great one, or a terrible one, and to impart that (or not) on others. But most importantly, we learned that we are unique and special.

I will never forget key moments at this presentation. At the NSA conference, we have an event called "Open Mike" where any teammate can come up and say what is on his/her mind. If they can only say their name, that's great. If they want to say how wonderful the conference is, that's encouraged. Not at one time did anyone have to feel prompted to get up. All of us did. One woman struggled so mightily and was breaking down in tears, but she continued doggedly until she said what she wanted to. That is not only awe-inspiring, but true power taken back from stuttering. Another teammate said that attending this workshop helped her with an "attitude adjustment" that she sorely needed. Another said that it was such an amazing experience to be in the presence of others who are so positive. A teammate who just graduated with her SLP degree stated how she's looking forward to working with clients and how great this event was. Not to mention of course that the student chapter of NSSLHA was co-sponsoring this event. These chapters are the future speech pathologists-they need to get involved with the NSA!

I chose to have this workshop in Washington, DC, not just because of the location (after all, it is central to so many cities and you can easily fly/drive/take a train there), but because to me, Washington DC symbolizes the chances to be who you are. To do what you want, to know that the opportunity exists and you can make a difference in your life or someone else's. I may be naive in some ways, but I do believe that people come to live (and work) in Washington because they believe in something bigger than themselves. That's the main reason why I joined the National Stuttering Association, and why I love helping other teammates become stronger and resilient when facing challenges in their life.

Before I left to take Amtrak home from Union Station, I did something that I am very proud of. I took the Metro to the Smithsonian station, and walked to the Jefferson Memorial. Climbing the top steps, and standing in front of Jefferson's statue, I saw myself transported back to the early days of this country, when a brave few dared to stand up and make a difference. At that moment, I realized that on my worst day when I stutter significantly, to me, life is beautiful. I leaned back and yelled "I love life!" as loudly as I could. Yes, I know some stared at me, and I may have drawn the wrong kind of attention. But it's true. When you stutter, life is BEAUTIFUL. Don't ever let an NSA teammate tell you it's not.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What drives YOU?

Good evening everyone,

I hope this blog finds everyone doing well and enjoying their memories of Memorial Day 2009. I thought I'd start this blog with a question asked to many different people-not just athletes, elected officials, or my NSA teammates, but to all in general, and that is....what drives YOU?

I thought I'd discuss this because on Sunday I had an interesting experience. I will be attending the American Institute of Stuttering's Gala on June 8, and as I was at MW Tux getting fitted, I noticed the salesman staring incessantly at his watch, no doubt wanting to leave. When I asked him about it, he nonchalantly said, "These days, that's what drives me." You see, ask anyone that question, and it wouldn't be surprising you'll get a plethora of answers. For some, it's watching the workday tick down until they can escape their cubicle. For others, it's the rush of adrenaline, the sequence of opening and closing a deal...for an attorney, winning a big case and earning justice for someone who was wronged. But if you want to know what drives me, it's my love and desire for the National Stuttering Association and wanting to help them achieve all the successes we can, working with those who stutter.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of reading "Intelligence for Your Life" by John Tesh. I just started listening to his radio show a few months ago. He used to host "Entertainment Tonight" and was well-known for his celebrity interviews, until he decided to pursue his own passion for broadcasting, leading to his show, described as "life coaching on the radio." In one of the chapters, he talks about finding your passion and how to achieve success through that. In one one of his early projects, he recorded music for fans of the Tour de France, and despite rejections from the record companies, continued on, even buying advertisement time on CBS with his credit card. And he even admitted he did not have any type of marketing degree. He states that the passion will eventually reveal itself, it's just a matter of time.

I guess in my high school and college years, my passion was writing. I love to write and I'm very expressive with the pen. Unfortunately, I don't do much of that now, but this blog allows me to use a "mental pen" if you will. In some ways, my darkest hours of my life led to my brightest passion of all, to work with the National Stuttering Association. That isn't going away, because I won't let it. Plain and simple, without passion, nothing in life is worth doing. Sometimes the hardest lessons are learned after the fact, but consider also opens up avenues to which we never knew existed.

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, May 21, 2009

The revenge of the fallen...not just about "Tranformers"....

Good evening everyone,

It's good to be back among the land of the living that I can finally breathe again, as my cold is gone. For tonight's blog, I wanted to draw on a recent movie trailer I saw as a few days ago, I went to see "Star Trek" in IMAX at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City. And before the film started, I saw the trailer for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." And it is a perfect transition to a posting I featured for National Stuttering Awareness Week: "You don't need to be Optimus Prime or Starscream to TRANSFORM yourself, it starts with the right attitude."

For so many years after my college graduation, I too had felt fallen in every aspect of my life-missed opportunities for socialization. A true relationship with my family, instead the arguments and screaming matches taking place where I felt that because of my speech I was misunderstood. No matter how long I tried, I just felt the same result was inevitable. The spinning of wheels, going nowhere fast. Everyone else was moving up....and I was just plunging downward, into a spiral from perhaps there may have been no escape.

The world sometimes seems like a cruel place, and is that ever true. Sometimes I felt like going through the motions, and questioning my identity-am I really a person who stutters? Maybe there's something wrong with me. Or maybe yet God decided to give me this stutter so I can do something with my life. I just felt I had too many questions, and not enough answers. And the more I tried to examine it, the more angrier I got.

At each point in our lives, we have moments where our anger turns us into people we don't recognize. It's the same fury, that same outrage that can turn against us, and threaten everything we are, and what we want to do. For many years in my twenties, I was that person-and it showed everywhere I went, and through everything I did. I couldn't even bring myself to smile. All my life was raw pain, and I was determined to inflict it on everyone else possible-if I couldn't be fluent, then I wouldn't let anyone else be either. In some sick, perverse way, you actually feed off of it, and it's the worst feeling in the world-all it does is make you more isolated than you were to begin with.

It was because of this anger that I too lost something that couldn't be replaced-I had begun dating a woman who really accepted me for me, and I was too blind (or maybe naive) to realize it. Eventually, that relationship deteriorated, and among other factors, it was because she had stated I had refused to rise above blaming others for the fact I stutter. No one wants to be around someone who is constantly negative, especially about their speech.

In many ways, my "revenge", if you will, took place at the National Stuttering Association conference in Long Beach, Calif. I learned how to channel my hurt and anger, and give it a positive voice. I met teammates who live life to the fullest, embracing their speech and doing. Let me say that again: DOING. One word, and to some, it's a simple one. But never estimate the power it can give you. I was fallen...but not anymore.

I will always have my good days and bad days. Today I was talking to my brother and blocking on the word "Washington" (damn those W's LOL) and when he chimed in, I focused clearly on the word, and said what needed to be said-I don't care if he felt the need to finish my sentence. No one is going to do that for me, because I won't let them.

I hope for those who feel "fallen," your "revenge" comes soon: and the best way to do that is to get involved with the National Stuttering Association. Every day I am so thankful I did.

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, May 17, 2009

Two guys and a show heard around the world......

Good morning everyone. I would like to apologize if I sound out of it right now. Unfortunately as I am posting the latest edition of the blog, I have been infected by a rhinovirus and I feel tired. No one wants to get sick of course, but the weather here on the Island is playing havoc with everyone. I wanted to share with my teammates here and around the world a story about how everyday differences are being made in the stuttering community. From my previous entries, you know that I admire and respect my teammates for their unyielding commitment to helping make the world more understanding of what it's like to be a person who stutters. One teammate for example did an amazing presentation at a local school in upstate New York. But recently, I had the pleasure (and more importantly, the honor) of appearing on a show called "Stuttertalk." For those who aren't familiar with it, "Stuttertalk" is the brainchild of two of my teammates, one of whom is an adjunct professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn. I was a panelist at one of his classes recently, where another one of my NSA teammates was there. "Stuttertalk" is also hosted by a chapter leader from Brooklyn as well. What is so amazing is that every time I listen, there is something new to be learned. It's not just all about the academic developments in the field, although there is no denying that we have come a long way, especially with these new developments with Pacaglone. It's about fresh perspectives. All my teammates at the National Stuttering Association embrace diversity and we come from different areas-big city, small towns-young professionals, older members with families. But I stress this continuously-there is always something to be learned. No matter how old you are, or what your current situation, there are innumerable opportunities to empower yourself and make yourself stronger. When I listen to "Stuttertalk," I often think of "Inside the Actors Studio" on Bravo. You are learning from the masters of their craft about why they feel the way they do about certain things. The teammates at the NSA bring their own views about stuttering and the future of where the new technologies will take us. If you haven't listened to "Stuttertalk," give it a shot. It will be time well spent! 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, May 11, 2009

I was trapped...and then I learned how to run and gun!!!!

Good evening everyone,

As I am typing this blog tonight, I'm settling in focusing dually on my thoughts and those surrounding the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those of you who have known me for so long know how big of a fan of the sport I am, and for me, this is the best time of the year, with the exception of the NSA conference. For those fans who swear by the coolest game on earth, this is the win to win sixteen in the spring to get the ring, you must do what you normally wouldn't do. As Mark Recchi put it in an interview in The Hockey News, "Guys step out of their comfort zone."

One of the biggest strategies in hockey for so long was the neutral zone trap. If you happened to be on a team that utilized this strategy, basically it was a way to strangle the opposition by cutting off their scoring chances, preventing any movement through the area between blue lines. But what so many players realized is that while this works to a point, it also prevents one from doing what they wish to do. They also take away their own chances to make success for themselves.

When I was starting out in speech therapy as a young boy, my first exposure to techniques was "stretching." I very easily recall a speech pathologist on the other side of the desk explaining how to prolong the sounds, in essence, instead of saying the sentence "My name is Steven," it would come out as "Mmmmyyyyy nnnnaaaaame iiisssss Steeeven," and looking back on it now, I must have sounded like a complete android. Most of my NSA teammates would say this is a treatment that is far outdated and really now has no substantial value. While I did use that technique, I too found myself being "trapped." How I longed to speak the way others could, even if I blocked several times on the way to completing my thoughts.

As my evolution into speech therapy continued, my techniques began to follow suit. I learned the "easy onset" and the "airflow" method, learning how to breathe from the diaphragm and try to get a running start on the words. But the more I did that, the more it seemed like the words just were a stream of dominoes falling, but never in rhythm. I'd have one good word...and then the spasms returned.

I also realize in my younger years, I was painfully difficult to work with. I went through five speech therapists in seven years, and when you do not have the continuity that you need, you find yourself facing multiple challenges and setbacks. If you watch any hockey players perform, the top ones that will tell you they need a system to work with where they can continually understand what is expected. Change the strategy too many times, and the results will speak for themselves.

I now like to use what I call a run-and-gun strategy. Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you need to have that mentality where you'll going to do whatever it takes to accomplish the job. Put yourself on offense, and when you block hard, you run and gun even harder. You need to tell your stutter that it does NOT own you....but you own it. You WILL say what you want. You WILL stand up for yourself and your teammates. No matter the situation, you know that you will achieve your goal and not let some vocal spasm stop you. My days of running away from my stutter have died. My flame to speak now burns strongly than ever. When you tell yourself you are capable of running-and-gunning when it comes to your speech, you give yourself all the power you need to kick stuttering's ass. And it is such a great why don't you learn how to run-and-gun when it comes to your speech? Get in the game!!!

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, May 7, 2009

I want support the National Stuttering Association!

Good evening everyone,

There has been no greater experience in my life than joining what I consider the greatest team in the stuttering community, the National Stuttering Association. I firmly believe that four days in Long Beach, Calif., forever changed my life in so many ways. As a chapter leader, I have the honor, but more importantly, the calling to help my teammates strive for the realization of their goals. Until I found the NSA, at the lowest point in my life, I couldn't have cared less about the world I live in. I now know that I can affect the world and bring positive change. My teammates' success are their success. Stuttering is my desire, and my ambition to showcase the very best of those who stutter.

There is no doubt that the NSA is on the verge of something very special. We celebrated our 30th anniversary in Atlanta, and our roads have led (and will keep leading) to a time where stuttering will be embraced and wholly accepted. At our upcoming conference in Scottsdale, we have so many teammates presenting new workshops, some of whom will be inaugural presenters. It makes me cry happy tears to see what's going on. And now, more than ever, we need YOU to be part of this: by giving to the NSA.

I don't need to tell you that right now times are very bad. Companies are cutting jobs, unemployment is rapidly increasing, and we're getting impatient waiting for change to come. I firmly believe it will, and we just have to wait it out. But for the NSA, there's a never time to wait. We understand the world right now is facing tumultuous times. And during times like these, we have to decide what's important and often extra essentials are eliminated. But if you stutter, the NSA is essential. The NSA gives teammates hope. It gives them power. It gives them an opportunity to laugh and smile, being in the company of others who get it. When I read about a parent who writes to the NSA saying "You gave my son/daughter the time of their life," that above all else, is priceless.

As a nonprofit organization, the NSA does not get funding from any sources: state, federal, county, or local. We're all member-driven. In many ways, the best analogy I can give is we're similar to public television. You may have seen those Saturday night pledge drives where they have great programs, but they can only provide that service because of "Viewers like you." Well, we need teammates like you-who will stand up and be counted.

You may be wondering what can I do? If you'd like to donate, there are so many opportunities. You can donate an item to be auctioned off. You can donate with a one-time donation, or our very special "Change for the Better" program-a monthly amount where you can pledge with a credit card to the NSA. Unlike public television, we can't offer you a flashy umbrella or tote bag for a certain level. But we can waive your membership fee for the NSA, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping us to become the preeminent organization for stuttering-period.

If you have been inspired by my words, and want to give, please log on to, and you can find all the contact information there. There are so many teammates around the world who stutter, who feel trapped and isolated in darkness. Let's bring them to the vocal light, and have their voices heard.

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