I consider myself lucky to have found the NSA when I was only ten years old. Up until that point, I had never met another stutterer or ever heard another stutter. Until I was ten, the concept of stuttering support had never crossed my mind—I expected to grow out of my impediment and continue my life as fluent. I attended a family day in my home town and was taken aback at the number of people who stuttered. I remember feeling confused on the drive home because although I had enjoyed attending, it was also the first time I had seen adults stutter. This was the first time I thought about what my stutter would mean for the rest of my life and I was scared. However, there was one feeling that outweighed all others—the sense of comfort I felt being around other people who stutter.
This sense of comfort is something that was even more present during my first conference in St. Petersburg. It was after this conference that I asked my parents if I could stop attending speech therapy. I felt as though I was hyper-focused on my fluency and the pressure I felt to be fluent during therapy was not worth the anxiety it caused. This, in turn, allowed me to take the initiative when it came to my stutter. I tried to force myself not to obsess over fluency. Instead of thinking about what techniques I could have used to minimize my stutter, I tried to look at what parts of stuttering were causing me anxiety. I found that after a conversation what I regretted the most was not how disfluent I was but rather the steps I took to avoid speaking. I noticed I had formed a bad habit of avoiding talking whenever possible. Not only did this negatively affect my participation grades in school, but it made socializing like the rest of my friends a challenge. When I was in the eighth grade I asked to give a presentation meant for the class in front of only the teacher—I got a good grade on the assignment but the questions asked by my friends after they presented during the actual class is what sparked a change in my thinking. One of my closest friends told me something that I still reflect on today— “we don’t care about how you talk, we care about what you have to say.” Hearing this from the people I spent the most time with reinforced my decision to take an active role when it came to my own stutter.
Fast forward to today, as a sophomore in college, I am still stuttering and I am still a part of the NSA. Ten years after my first chapter meeting, I still have the same feelings as my ten year old self—the uncertainty about my future as a stutterer remains as do the temptations to remain silent when presented with the opportunity to speak. I’ve found it is important to allow myself to have bad days while not allowing myself to be swallowed by them—tomorrow holds an opportunity to grow more confident, speak a little more, and worry about fluency a little less. Accepting that my stutter is here to stay has not been an easy process nor is it something that will be complete any time soon. Just like my stutter, it is something that I must compete with everyday, striving not to speak fluently but to speak freely.
Author Caden Short serves as our NSA Teen Program Co-Coordinator. Caden is currently a sophomore at New York University studying Economics with a minor in politics. Outside of school, sports are a large part of his life—before he left for college he coached a youth football team. Before becoming Teen Program Co-Coordinator in 2019, Caden served on the TAC for three years. He hopes to inspire others to become confident speakers and further engage with the NSA. Caden is grateful that stuttering gave him the opportunity to be a member of the NSA community and looks forward to the conference every year.
This piece is part of an ongoing series, written by our NSA Teens.