Hello. My name is Danny Litwack and I am a person who stutters. I believe every person who stutters has their own unique story and different feelings about stuttering. I hope that all people (stutterers and non-stutterers) can use each other’s stories to build the confidence that they deserve to have. Stuttering is a part of my life, and while I may get frustrated with it at times, I know my life wouldn’t be the same without it. Today, I can talk about and be proud of my stutter, but it hasn’t always been this way. This is the story of my stutter.
I don’t remember when I began to stutter, but it was brought to my attention when I was in the 2nd grade. My teacher wrote comments on our report cards and decided to write that “Danny has a stutter”. After reading these comments, my parents were confused as they never heard me stutter at home. However, they decided to take me to my first speech language pathologist. I remember not really understanding what a stutter was and how it could affect my life. After a few speech sessions, I was told that my stutter was fine and I would grow out of it.
Fast forward 5 years. I started to become more cognizant of my stuttering as it became more noticeable. I began finding ways to avoid speaking in situations, where I normally would. Not raising my hand in class when I knew the answer, leaving the room during group discussions, never initiating a conversation; these were only some of the methods I used in order to hide from my stutter. I kept thinking, “Don’t stutter. People will think you’re incompetent. The other students will laugh at you”. As a teenager, I became more aware of the habits I relied on to communicate; substituting words (which sometimes left with an incomplete thought), not focusing on peoples facial expressions, and adding filler words like “umm” and “eh”. All of these fears and compensations due to my stuttering led to a lack of confidence and a terrifying fear of speaking in public. I remember asking my Spanish teacher if I could skip class presentations and instead record my speeches at home. I never wanted to talk about my stutter or even think about it, yet it controlled my life.
This lack of confidence and fear continued into college. I even contemplated staying near home because of my stutter. The beginning of college was a stressful time without the support of my friends and family back home. I continued to try to hide my stutter and not let people know the real me. I remember hating the first day of class because I wasn’t sure if I had to introduce myself – a situation where I knew I would stutter. I thought I would be judged and people would treat me differently because I stuttered.
Then came sophomore year of college. During one of my first classes, my professor told us to write something down that makes us different. I of course wrote down that I stuttered because I had never really met anyone else who had the same communication obstacle. In a lecture hall of probably over 100 students, this same professor walked into her second day of class and shouted out, “Where is Danny Litwack? Please see me after class”. After patiently waiting until class ended, I introduced myself to my professor and she said “I had never met anyone who stuttered… until last semester and now you are in my class.” After a few minutes speaking with her, she asked me if I would like to meet the student who also stuttered. I was fortunate enough to meet this person and talk about stuttering and how it affected our lives. It was amazing to hear how much we had in common relating to our stutter; like having trouble saying our names, where we lived, and how speaking on the phone was uncomfortable for us. This was definitely the beginning of the change in how I viewed my stutter.
It wasn’t a full transition from hiding my stutter to being completely confident in it, but this was a start. I knew I wanted to learn more about my stutter, meet new people who stuttered and one day build up the confidence I saw in some of my friends. My voice in class was still nonexistent but I started to speak more in groups and with my friends, even mentioning my stutter in conversation. In my senior year, I had to take public speaking, a class I knew I was not going to enjoy. I thought to myself, how could I feel more comfortable in front of the class? Our first presentation was an introduction on who we were. I went up to the blackboard and wrote Stutter. I told the class, “I find it interesting that the communication disorder I have, is a word I have trouble saying”. The entire class now knew I stuttered and I was able to spread awareness to my fellow students. My confidence rose.
Giving a good first impression was always something difficult for me. If you didn’t know I stuttered, I may have come off as shy or uninterested. Interviewing for an internship was going to be a challenge because I thought it was important to give the best first impression. My first interview in the world of Finance started with the interviewer asking me my name. It took me 30 seconds (or at least it felt like it did) to finally utter my name. I was supposed to meet with three interviewers that day. I thought I was doomed. After the three interviews, I had little faith I would be called back for a second round. Fortunate for me, the interviewers looked past my stutter and realized I could be a valuable asset to their company. I was offered an internship where I worked extra hard and communicated effectively enough for the company to offer me a full time position after school ended the following year. Throughout my career in Finance, I’ve had to communicate with other employees in person and on the phone. I have been asked to give numerous presentations to senior management, many times in front of a large audience. I’ve constantly told myself that my stutter won’t affect the progression in my job. I’ve forced myself to be confident in my stutter and work hard despite taking a bit longer to respond to questions, and it has paid off. I am currently one of the youngest managers at my firm, advising and helping employees progress their own careers.
Today, I continue to have the opportunities to enhance my confidence and spread awareness about stuttering. I volunteer at SAY – helping children with their songs, skits, and/or plays while also working at camp during the summer. I have lessened my fear of public speaking by initiating more conversations, joining more group orientated events, and giving guest lectures on stuttering to graduate students at Universities. I am currently back in school part time, and I am never shy to raise my hand and ask/answer a question. It doesn’t matter what people do, say, or think about my stutter.
It may have taken me a bit longer than I wanted, but today I can say that I embrace and accept my stutter. While I may still have days where my speech is more troublesome than normal and I become dissatisfied, I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without my stutter. I wouldn’t have the work ethic and confidence that I have built up if I wasn’t faced with this challenge. My stutter has forced me into situations that I never thought I could handle. I’ve realized that the thought of stuttering was the real thing that hindered my growth. Once I became more confident in myself and in my stutter, those thoughts dissipated and I was able do the things I knew I could. I am grateful that I have had the support of the people around me, including my parents, to continue my journey through life without my stutter holding me back. My stutter may always be with me, but it won’t stop me from living my life to the fullest and saying what I want to say.