About the presenter: David A. Shapiro, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a Fellow of ASHA, a Board Recognized Fluency Specialist, and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA. In his fourth decade of providing clinical services for people who stutter and their families, Dr. Shapiro is a regular presenter at state, national, and international conferences and has conducted workshops throughout the United States and abroad. His book, Stuttering Intervention: A Collaborative Journey to Fluency Freedom (PRO-ED), is finding a wide international audience. Dr. Shapiro is the 2006 recipient of the International Fluency Association's Award of Distinction for Outstanding Clinician. He is a person who stutters, has two teenage children with his wife, Kay, and lives in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2007.

Being Real

by David Shapiro
from North Carolina, USA

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." (from The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, 1922)

In order to understand what I have to say, you may need to know a little about who I am. I am a person who is blessed. I married my best friend 24 years ago. Her name is Kay. We have two remarkably wonderful children, our daughter, Sarah, who is 18 years old and our son, Aaron, who is 15. We laugh and we are happy. Also, I am a speech-language pathologist and have been one for 30 years. I am a professor at Western Carolina University, which is right in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in the USA. North Carolina is between Washington, D.C. and Florida, the home of Disneyworld. And I am a person who stutters.

Being Real -- For Me

For me, being real is realizing that life, at its essence, is about relationships. Relationships, all relationships, take time. And being real is about loving and being loved, being giving and forgiving despite being hurt, living and learning in every moment and growing every day, seeing beauty in things when others may not, laughing until your sides hurt, remaining young and passionate despite the passage of years, dreaming and enabling those around you to realize their dreams, and bringing a smile and comfort to those in need.

Being real is about stuttering and the anguish of being unable to communicate with a single person on the planet. But it is also about having a dog, Buddy, who for 17 years did not care if I stuttered or not. It is about seeking peace in the woods and, after falling asleep, waking to find Buddy by my side and sunshine in my face.

Being real is about having a grandpa who, when walking with me hand in hand and unable to understand me because of my severe stuttering, said "I love you just the way you are."

Being real is about being Jewish and being unable to become a Bar Mitzvah, which is accomplished by leading a service on your 13th birthday, because of severe stuttering. But being real also is about going through confirmation by playing a solo on the saxophone in synagogue rather than speaking publicly, and about a Rabbi who wished me the strength to find my words and the ability to speak.

Being real is about going to a school dance and stuttering severely when trying to ask girls to dance, only to hear them say, "I'd rather not." But being real also is about Lynn and Linda Kall, two beautiful twin girls who asked me to dance, and about feeling so happy inside. It is also about Margaret's smile. Margaret was a nice girl who wore metal leg braces; nobody was asking her to dance. When I asked her to dance, she was so pleased. Her legs moved very little, but her arms and smile were all over the gym floor.

Being real is about making something of myself after speech-language pathologists stopped believing that I could overcome my stuttering, teachers told me not to go to college, and professors advised me not to pursue the profession of Communication Sciences and Disorders. And being real is about learning that sometimes grown ups, even smart grown ups, can be wrong. It is about stuttering through an oral final examination and receiving an 'F' in the mail, about continuing to believe in yourself even when others may not, and about knowing that saying "the sky is the limit" only reflects the limitations of one's own thinking. There is no limit.

Being real is about electing to take a public speaking course when it is no longer required and earning an 'A' in the third and final speech, entitled "Breaking Barriers and Controlling Stuttering." Being real is listening to people applaud.

Being real is about going to Indiana University to earn my Ph.D., where I met Kay, a girl with the prettiest blonde hair and eyes as blue as the clearest sky. It is about getting up the nerve to call a beautiful girl, knowing that I would not be able to say her name.

Being real is about asking your best friend to be your partner in marriage for life and hearing her say, "Yes." It is about waking up every day to your best friend, witnessing your child's first breaths of life, and looking into their eyes as they grow into adulthood and experiencing the world beyond.

Being real is about losing all of my hair and having a wife who explains that it has been loved off, a son when he was younger who collected hair from the barbershop floor and when asked why explained that it is for his dad, and a daughter who sees the lines of age on her father's face and around his eyes and explains that they are there because I smile a lot.

Being real is about being thankful for the privilege of working with people of all ages who stutter and their families, about sincerely believing that the work and the relationships are important, and about being as excited in one's career after 30 years as if it were the first year on the job. It is about having wonderful friends and colleagues, all of whom are committed to understanding stuttering and helping people who stutter, literally all over the world.

Being real is about counting our blessings, realizing that sunflowers grow into the horizon, hearing birds sing, and remembering what is true.

Being Real -- For You

Being real is about knowing that coping with stuttering may hurt deeply and be more difficult than anyone else can understand. But it is also about realizing that stuttering is only a part of who we are and that it is our choice whether or not to define ourselves on the basis of stuttering. Each of us represents a composite of many abilities and interests, talents and challenges. If you were to meet a new friend, what would you want that friend to know about you? What are your talents? What are your interests? Who are you? Who do you want to be? Are you working to become that person?

Being real is about realizing that life presents challenges. Indeed, stuttering can be a big challenge. Yet we must face our challenges with courage and do our best to become the best we can be. Other people who face the challenge of stuttering have been very successful. Did you know that people who stutter have become President of the USA (George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt), prime minister (Winston Churchill), a prophet (Moses), actors (James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader; Nicholas Brendon, Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and basketball stars (Bob Love and Ron Harper, Chicago Bulls) and baseball stars (Tommy John, New York Yankees)? Being real is knowing that stuttering never needs to hold us back. Only our imagination limits what we can do and become. There is no limit. Do you always do your best? What do you want to become?

Being real is about having one real friend. You may be fortunate to have family, friends, teachers, clergy, speech-language pathologists, and others who believe in you. Through life, you may become rich and famous. But if you have one friend, then you are blessed. What makes you feel fortunate? For what do you feel most thankful? Who is your best friend?

Being real is knowing that usually we are stronger together than we are alone and that there is nothing we cannot accomplish when we put our hearts and minds to it. It is knowing that when we focus on a common area of interest or shared concern, such as stuttering, all differences that could separate us tend to drop away. It is about knowing that we, anywhere all over the world, are far more similar than we are different. To whom are you most alike? To whom are you most different?

Being real is knowing that we always have choices. Being real is making the right choices. Even when we make mistakes or wish we had done things differently, we have a new assortment of choices to make. What choices have you made? Do you wish you had made different choices? How will you alter the choices you made by making new choices?

Being real is doing what is right, even when doing what is right is unpopular. It is about always doing your best and making good decisions. It is so important to do well at whatever you choose to pursue and to do good (i.e., that which is meaningful and right as a service to oneself and to others). People who do what is right don't always receive recognition or reward. However, we know when we have done what is right and we carry a smile inside. That is the best reward of all. What have you done that is right? How did it make you feel?

Being real is giving back. Those of us who have encountered challenges such as stuttering know how hard it can be to confront and overcome our challenges. We have an obligation to give to those who have not yet been successful and to help them along their journey. When have you helped another person who is facing a challenge? Are there other people you know of who could use a helping hand?

Finally, being real is living and giving and loving and being loved and cherished just like you are. I wish for you the confidence to feel equal to and as good as any person present or past, and the humility and civility to feel better than not a single one. I wish for you to be real -- for always.

Good luck.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2007.

August 27, 2007
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