National Stuttering Association

 Hi there. Nice to see you again.

I recently had the honor of sitting down with Eli Taulman and his mom, Nicole, and learning more about their family journey with stuttering. Rather than introduce him myself, I asked Eli to write a short bio. After all, he’s a fellow writer!

Friends, meet Eli…

My name is Eli Taulman and I am sixteen years old. I live in Missouri. I have been going to NSA conferences for four years (including this past virtual conference). When I grow up, I want to have a career that involves history. Stuttering, to me, is more of a blessing than it ever will be a curse.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today! I’d love to start by hearing a little about your journey. What would you like to share today?

Nicole: Two of my children are married and on their own, and then we have Eli, who’s 16, and his younger sister, Brynne, who’s almost 15.

Eli was born full-term, but he was low birthweight and had some neurological delays. These became very evident to us when his sister was born, because she started to move ahead of him in some cognitive areas of development. Eli started an Early Intervention program and went to a developmental preschool when he was three, then transitioned into public school. He would have periods of stuttering, and he had some speech therapy in school, but it was clear by the time he was eight years old that he was a person who stutters. It was surprising because we have no family history of stuttering, but we weren’t really frazzled by it.

We live in a rural community, so there aren’t a lot of support options. We found a speech therapist who was wonderful, but she had never worked with anyone who stutters. Still, she researched and collaborated with other therapists and offered him strategies and a lot of emotional support. She really boosted Eli’s confidence. We eventually discontinued services, and he hasn’t had therapy for about three years. We just carry on with it!

Speaking of carrying on, there’s a lot happening in the world right now. Eli, I assume you’ve been doing school from home?

Eli: Back in 2012, after we moved to Missouri, I transitioned into homeschooling, and I still do that. This fall, I’m actually going back to public school part-time, so that will be interesting.

Nicole: When we moved back to Missouri, he would have needed a diagnosis to continue services, and we didn’t want to follow that route. We also knew the services weren’t going to be enough. So, we started homeschooling, and we’ve continued for the past eight years. He’ll be a junior this year.

COVID-19 was very interesting for our family, because Eli is very introverted and loves to be at home. We thought that he would be excited about staying at home, but the whole thing really affected him. It was really tough. I asked him if he would be interested in going to public school next year, and he was. I was very surprised, because he had never shown any interest before. He realized that the little bit of socialization he received was important to him, and he wants more.

That in itself is an interesting story, because it’s the opposite of what a lot of kids have gone through these past few months. Going back to what I perhaps should have asked first, what inspired you to do this interview with me today?

Eli: I’ve never done an interview before – and it’s for the NSA, so I’d be a fool to say no.

How did you get involved with the NSA?

Eli: My therapist brought up the NSA during a therapy session, out of nowhere – the 2017 conference in Dallas. It was [gestures “mind blowing”].

Tell me more about that!

Eli: Before we went to the conference, I felt quite alone, because I’d never known anyone else who stuttered. That was the first time I’d ever heard anyone else stutter. My mind was blown – it was crazy. Over 60 million people…For me, that’s quite a lot. For the whole world, that’s pretty small, but for me, that’s quite a lot. I met tons of amazing people because of the NSA. All of the locations are amazing, and the amount of things that you learn is also amazing. It’s an amazing experience.

Nicole: It was really cool for our family as well. At one point, I asked Brynne, “What do you think about this?” and she said, “Mom, this is a life-changing experience for Eli.” I knew he would get a lot out of it, but I didn’t realize how much she would get out of it. For the first time, he got up and spoke in front of a group, and she recorded it with her phone. Every conference that we go to, she talks about the “last round table” – that Eli will always speak to the group, and she cries. I mean, he’s pretty sure of himself –

Eli: Well, there I am.

Nicole: Yes, you are. After the first conference, both of the kids said, “We’ll give up our family vacation if we can go to the conference next year.” So, we start saving the day after the conference, and we’ve gone to every one since then.

I’m 36, and I had never met another person who stutters until a year ago. Talk about an amazing experience…

Eli: Wow. That’s incredible.

Everyone has different experiences with stuttering, and it’s interesting to see how people learn to express themselves.

Nicole: What we have learned in the past couple of years is that Eli is an amazing writer.

Eli: I even wrote a paper about stuttering.

Nicole: He tends to stutter more when he’s at home, with us. I’ve asked him why he thinks that is.

Eli: It’s because that’s where I’m the most comfortable. No one judging me, I can stutter as much as I want, and that’s exactly what I do.

What are some things that help you express yourself? I feel like, as a person who stutters, I have to be creative with words sometimes.

Eli: I get exactly how you feel. I don’t change the words as often as I used to, but I still do here and there.

Nicole: I want him to say what he thinks and feels. I don’t want him to feel like he has to spend so much of his brain time trying to maneuver his way around words so that a sentence comes out fluently. I would rather him just speak and struggle and have it be no big deal. The NSA is a big proponent of that.

Eli: For me, I’ve gotten so used to it that I don’t think of it as anything more than being just a stutter. I can think of it as a benefit.

What have you learned from your stutter? What are the benefits? 

Eli: I think it has made me a better person. I’m more accepting of all kinds of things, because, in a way, I get exactly how, say, someone with a disability feels.

Absolutely. What’s interesting about a stutter is that you can’t see it. It gives you a lot of empathy, because it reminds you that everyone has their own struggles, even if they’re not obvious.

Nicole: Every person has a “thing” they struggle with, and this is your thing. You have to make peace with it. I don’t mean that it’s not a big deal, because it can feel like a big deal, but it’s simply a tiny part of you. Our family philosophy is, “You have to laugh, or you’ll cry.” We try not to take things too seriously.

Eli: Yeah, sometimes I get stuck on a word, and I’ll break down laughing.

Nicole: One of the things that has been a benefit for me from Eli’s stutter is that I work for a company that provides in-home speech therapy and literacy tutoring. I actually got the job because I had such a personal connection to speech disorders. Some of my greatest moments are sharing our story with other families and talking about the NSA. I feel like I’m honoring Eli by the work that I’m helping other families do.

It’s so cool to see young adults, especially at the conference, share the careers they have and the progress they make. It’s very inspiring. It has been a ride, and Eli is going to do great things.

Eli: I’m not going to let it slow me down. I think I’ve probably proved that already.

I’m already sold, and I’ve only known you for 40 minutes! Your story has already inspired, and it will inspire others.

Nicole: The conference is kind of like Eli’s yearly booster shot. He starts counting down from the day he leaves until the day he goes back. There’s nothing like that closing ceremony and the celebration there.

So, this year was different. What did you do, instead, to give yourself that booster shot?

Eli: Well, we went on a big road trip across the country – South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Portland…then drove back a different route.

Nicole: We took the NSA on the road this year. We even stopped off in a small town somewhere in Washington so that we could have internet to log on. We sat at a park. I was part of the parent panel, and Eli had a teen workshop. He and I were both on our electronics participating in the conference. We threw on our NSA t-shirts and spread the NSA love.

That sounds wonderful! This has been such a pleasure. Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?

Eli: You’re not alone. They’ll get what I mean by that: You’re not alone.

That’s incredibly powerful for all of us who stutter, as well as for people who don’t stutter.

Nicole: Yes, that message is so powerful today. Everyone feels a little bit alone. It’s an unsure time, and the things that we always thought we were confident in have been shaken. We’re not alone, and we don’t need to be alone. We can reach out and get any support we need.

Eli: Exactly.

Author Jamie Wolff (aka James) is a New York creative arts therapist – turned personal trainer – turned health coach and curriculum developer. As a writer Jamie believes that stories matter; the stories we share and the stories we tell ourselves – they matter. Jamie serves as the NSA Spotlight Writer.

Jamie Wolff