Sunday, March 28, 2010

Flying through life in slow motion....yes, it's possible!

Hello everyone,

Have you ever had the chance to experience things in slow motion? In this world we live in, that seems like a pretty interesting concept. There's always places to go, things to do, appointments on the calendar. We always say we'll take time to slow down, but yet we never find the time to do so. Well, maybe when you're sick it seems like we tend to take things easy, and there are some who prefer to go full throttle every chance they can. Yet for me, I had a chance to experience slow motion, and I want you to know that it can really be great.

As those who have read my blog know, I am a very active speaker to local schools that have communication disorders programs. I do have a great appreciation for the academic process, and I realize that the classroom and clinical aspects cannot be ignored. But as an advocate for people who stutter, I feel that it is essential for me to do as many speaking engagements as I can. It is just as rewarding for me as it is for the students to learn all things stuttering. And how far we have come in these last few years! It makes me so excited to think about where the future will take us, and how these SLP students will be on the cutting edge of the technologies around us.

I seem to notice that the more public speaking I do, things tend to be in slow motion. And that to me seems very interesting. There are some people who will tell you that the more nervous you are, the slower things seem to go. I think it's the exact opposite. For some reason, being a person who stutters has shown me how to look at things differently. For that, I give all the glory to the National Stuttering Association. For example, talking on the phone used to be an absolute nightmare. Now I am very good at it-sure, I will always have my days when I block, but now it's an instrument of power instead of one that promotes fear. It's actually the one-to-one conversation that I struggle with, but because of my work with the NSA, I have gotten much better at it, and I'll continue to do so. In some ways, this is a role reversal, because there are many people who stutter who don't mind public speaking, yet would rather do anything to avoid the phone-even root canal three times over might be more suitable.

I am a huge sports fan, and one of the most common themes that I hear mentioned in interviews is the growth process, especially in hockey. Hockey, maybe more so than any other sport, has teens as early as nineteen coming into play professional hockey with the hopes and dreams on the front of the sweater they wear. And as they begin to amass the seasons under their belt, the players speak of the "the game slowing down for them." When they are a rookie, everything comes at you from so many angles-the media, the teammates who may resent you, adjustments to a professional game instead of a junior one. I think in many ways, that's exactly what public speaking comes to for me. When I did my first speaking engagement at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, I couldn't believe that two hours passed by so quickly with breakneck speed. I was left saying "Wow!" because not only it was so enlightening for me, but time never had passed in such a manner. As I began to speak at more schools, I began to see the experience slow down and it's so great: because when you do that, it enriches you and the students more. There's such a strong rapport in such a short amount of time. If only we could feel like that the rest of the time!

So to all those people who stutter around the world-take some time to see that your life can be good in slow motion! And if you have not done any speaking to graduate classes, there is no better time then the present. You have a story that needs to be told. There are students who need to hear it.

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, March 22, 2010

We all have the right to belong....and we will fight for it, even if we are reluctant to at first!

Hello everyone,

The world seems to change every day, especially when it comes to the media. Once upon a time in America, we began our days by waking up and breakfast couldn't start until we opened the daily newspaper and saw what had taken place. These days, newspapers are struggling to stay alive as news finds our way to us via different means: cell phone applications, the bloggers, and use of the Internet. But sometimes there is a story that just jumps out at us, and we briefly skim it, and have one of those "Wait a minute....what was that?" kinds of moments. And we learn a little bit more about ourselves simultaneously.

On Yahoo! there was such an article. Constance McMillen has turned into a name that is on everyone's lips and her struggle reflects one which hit me personally, and that's the right to belong. For those who may not know what happened, she is an eighteen-year old high school senior attending school in the Itawamba County region of Mississippi. She is also openly gay, and politely requested the school honor her wishes to wear a tuxedo and bring a same-sex date to her prom. The school decided to respond by canceling the event, citing numerous distractions. All of a sudden, she turned into the person responsible, and was subject to many rude and disturbing comments. One girl even said "Thanks for ruining my senior year." Little did she know how many people were ready and willing to rally to her defense, people of both orientations. As of the time this was written, there were nearly 400,000 members supporting her on Facebook, and the ACLU is fighting to have her prom reinstated.

What really hit me after reading this was it made me think of all the struggles that I, and members of the National Stuttering Association face, yet we bravely embark on our quests to live our lives the way we usually do and empower ourselves and others who are in the same situation. We have the right to stutter openly and without shame. Imagine what it would be like if we were told "You aren't allowed to stutter-ever!" I vividly remember reading how Constance spoke that she was so afraid to approach her classmates because of the reaction, yet her father said she had to do so. When I was in high school, despite volunteering in certain classes with teachers who made me feel comfortable, I wouldn't even talk to my classmates just because I felt so isolated and trapped inside. I could only walk down the halls with my head down, because I knew that if I had to face them, I would know exactly what they would say, and visualize the giggles and snickers at what I had to go through. It wasn't until I joined the National Stuttering Association, and I give the glory to them, that I learned that I could shake someone's hand and look them in the eye. How much inspiration and power that gave me!

When I originally read the story, I couldn't help but think of the movie "The Legend of Billie Jean," with Helen Slater. The movie, which has a cult following, features the tagline, "The last thing she ever expected to be a hero," which in some ways, could describe Constance. In the movie, the main character and her brother get into a mix-up which inadvertantly places them in harm's way and on the run from the authorities. As the film progresses, the teens begin to believe her side of the story, and many of them rally to her side, while exposing the fraudulent influence adults can have. Yet all it takes is ONE. ONE person to stand up and say "No, it's not all right." Yet many are afraid to do so. People who stutter are embarrassed and hesitant to report teasing or bullying in schools or colleges because of their response: "You need to be tough, you'll need to deal with this in the real world," or "Are you a real man?" No one has the right to be teased or humiliated because of something they can't control.

At the National Stuttering Association, I have met truly amazing individuals. We have a great group of dynamic teens who stutter, who are far more resilient than I was at their age. Yet again, we all learn from each other and provide so much support. In some ways, when I see them growing up and excelling in high school and seeing their bright futures, it makes me realize there is hope for this future generation-that maybe we can respect our differences.

Maybe Constance never intended be a hero. Perhaps certain members of the National Stuttering Association feel that same way. But I never saw myself as a hero. I'm just a person who stutters making a difference, just like we all are. But regardless of whatever you may think or believe, I think the right to belong is worth fighting for, and is essential. I am never going to believe otherwise, that just maybe there's a woman out there for me who believes in the NSA as strongly as I do.

Here's hoping Constance wins.

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, March 14, 2010

To the Lone Star are a special teacher!

Hello everyone,

"There's always going to be another mountain, I'm always gonna want to make it move, always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I'm going to have to lose, it ain't about how fast you get there, it ain't about what it's waiting on the other side, it's the climb."

The above lyrics I just quoted are from the song "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus. There are probably some people who are going to disown me for listening to that, let alone quoting it in my blog. But I have always believed that we can define ourselves by a quote from a line featured in a song or movie. It doesn't matter whether it was profiled in your high school yearbook or if it's printed on a piece of paper that hangs over your desk somewhere. But the last few days, that song has been reverberating in my head for good reason-and this is the story of how it came to be.

In February, I had a very big interview, quite possibly the biggest one of my life. Although I am not out of work, I am currently looking for a full-time professional position. The past few years I have been working behind the counter at a franchise cafe which makes sandwiches, salads, and smoothies. I do not think this job is "beneath me" at all, in fact, I know that in this economy, I am very thankful to have a job and I enjoy working hard and contributing to the sales of our store. I was invited to interview with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) at their headquarters in Houston. As I was intensely reviewing my notes on the plane, I was also focusing on how my stuttering was going to be. The challenges of being a person who stutters, and I have mentioned this often, is not knowing whether you'll have a good speech day or a bad one. Regardless, I took some solace in knowing that they already knew I stuttered. Now it was just up to me to make a good impression.

One of the things I take the most pride in on my interviews is showcasing my work with the National Stuttering Association. Yes, I am a chapter leader, but even more so than that, I like to think of myself as an ADVOCATE. I love to write and when I was at NASA, I did mention the story of the NSA Nation as well as showcasing my writing background. I met with five different people during the course of my day, and at the end of the day when I left to go back to the hotel, I had that feeling. You know the feeling very well: it's the same one you get when you ace a test, or an interview. You just know when you know. For the first time in a long while, I could visually see the so-called pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I distinctly remember that day it was raw, windy, and in the fifties, yet to me, it might have been a sun-kissed sky over the Great Wide Open.

Every day I kept checking my email, and the caller ID on my phone, anticipating the crowning moment. This was it, I told myself. My life would be officially starting now. Then, last week, I got an email and turned deathly silent. I begin to skim and didn't have to finish the email to see the message. "Everyone enjoyed meeting you, but we aren't able to define where your skills might fit in......." and the mirror shattered. I just stared at the computer screen. Ten minutes later, I went into my room and cried. I let my emotional dam burst everywhere. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and make no apologies for it. I'm human. I'm not The Terminator. I knew what my parents would say, and my relationship with them is estranged at best: "It just wasn't meant to be."

The day after that interview, I went out for a drive...just to be anywhere. As I was headed toward the beach, I heard "The Climb" come on the radio and slowed down, just to take in all the thoughts echoed. I began to reflect on what I had learned, what I had achieved. I had come so close, and I wondered if I'd ever get there again. But I WILL. Most importantly, I had shown that despite not achieving the ultimate goal, I proved that I rose to the occasion then, and can be counted on to do so again. I also provided hope and inspiration to my fellow members (and future ones) for the National Stuttering Association that we are very capable and will make good employees for organizations that want to hire us. We may stutter, but we have no problem communicating. There are many members who are in career transition who feel the pain every time they are turned down for a position because of something they can't control.

Yet every victory is celebrated immensely, because we all live through each other. When a member of the NSA became an attorney, and aims to go into lobbying, we all erupt in joy. When another member is honored for her work as an educator, we cheer loudly. Just maybe, I got several victories after all.

"These are the moments I'm gonna remember most, I just have to keep reaching."

I'm never going to stop climbing.....and neither should you.

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

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hi, my name is Steven, I stutter, and I am a fan of all things stuttering!

Hello everyone,

It's very hard these days to see owners of professional sports teams as "fans." To the average Joe, these people often invoke images of greed and whining because they want everything their way and they charge extravagant prices for a day's worth of entertainment. But yet a few days ago as I was reading the sports section and there was a quote that caught my eye from the owner of the New York Mets, Fred Wilpon. Now although I am a die-hard Yankees fan, Wilpon made an interesting observation. "I am also a fan," he said.

A few months ago, the National Stuttering Association launched their page on Facebook. It's so hard to be anywhere in the world today and not be affected by social media. The days of relying wholly on television, radio, and newspapers for our news and information have been overtaken by the launch of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The amazing thing about Facebook is that not only is it a great way to keep in touch and also network, but you can join many groups and "be a fan" of anything. You can be a fan of your favorite radio station (I love listening to Mix 107.3 out of Washington DC online, so I am a fan of them LOL). You can be a fan of your favorite sports team. And like many other people who stutter, I am a fan of the National Stuttering Association. Some people may have seen a famous infomercial for the "Hair Club For Men" founded by Sy Sperling, which featured the catchphrase, "I'm not only the president, but I am also a client." In the same vein, not only am I an active volunteer and chapter leader of the NSA, but I am a fan of people who stutter.

In some ways, it can be hard for the world to understand why I consider myself of a fan of stuttering. After all, let's examine that. Has stuttering changed my life in so many ways? Yes, both in good ways and bad ones. Have I experienced frustration? Sure, who hasn't? But as I always stress, joining the National Stuttering Association has opened my eyes to a side of stuttering I never knew existed. A side of hope. A side of tolerance, respect, and understanding. A new point of view that we are on the verge of truly being recognized as a force in this world. That's just the tip of the iceberg, why I am a fan of stuttering.

But I am also a fan of stuttering because of what the future holds. At our national conference in Arizona (and I'd be remiss not to plug the upcoming conference for July 2010-check our web site, for details), at the request of our members, we had the inaugural research symposium, where four renowned speech pathologists presented their findings and where the future of treatments for stuttering were going, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience. One of those very panelists actually announced a major breakthrough regarding stuttering and the confirmation that there is a genetic connection. It is this promise of new discoveries why I am a fan of all things stuttering.

So why don't you become a fan of all things with the National Stuttering Association? Become a fan of ours on Facebook. Or better yet, join us and be a member! Be part of what is, as one of my colleagues described the NSA, as "the world's largest block party."

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