Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cajun Code Fest

It's a great time to be a stutterer, if there ever can be such a time.

You can basically do everything online nowadays: banking, dating, work, math lessons, learn guitar... you name it, it's at your fingertips. We can communicate with our video game consoles without even using a controller. If there's an emergency, just click a button on your home alarm system or your car's OnStar application. If you get lost or need directions, you've got choices: Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, your iPhone's built-in map app, etc.

You can even order pizza online. I mean, come on! It doesn't get any better than that!

The public's perception of people who stutter is changing. Award-winning movies, such as The King's Speech, have helped to educate (while entertaining) the public at large, showing that people who stutter are simply people - we want to be respected, we want to be heard. We have feelings. We get frustrated. We're human!

A lot of that has to do with organizations like the Stuttering Foundation, which really go above and beyond. They educate the educators with pamphlets and videos, and educate the public by sponsoring movies and creating posters showing that some of our most famous athletes, actors, politicians and journalists stutter or used to stutter.

Someone at work was shocked when I said that researchers had found genes linked to stuttering. This guy told me that he thought I stuttered because I didn't get enough attention from my mother or something. I wasn't offended - that's just what he thought because he didn't know any better. You live, you learn. And thanks to my smart phone and a strong wireless signal, I was able to quickly show him some websites that proved that not only do genetics play a part in stuttering, but that my mom also rocks.

So, OK, why am I writing all of this? And why is this blog titled Cajun Code Fest?

Because yours truly, along with my wife and 6 of my new best friends, just won a coding competition in Lafayette, LA, called Cajun Code Fest. Betty and I teamed up with 6 people that we didn't previously know, developed a software application in roughly 24 hours, and presented our application to a panel of judges. We're splitting a large cash prize, get to go to Washington, DC, in early June, and get a tour of the White House.

All of that work took constant communication. My speech wasn't perfect, especially after only getting a few hours of sleep during the competition, but my team was just amazing. Nobody was shocked that I stuttered. Nobody snickered. I don't really expect adults to do that, but it was nice to be working with a great group of people. They put me so much at ease, and we had so much work to do, that I almost forgot that I stuttered for a few hours. It was great!

I just wanted to post something positive today. I'm really proud of everything that we accomplished this past weekend at Cajun Code Fest. And what makes me the most proud is that I never once had to worry about what people would think of me at this event, because everyone I worked with was just so extremely patient with me.

It definitely is a great time to be a person who stutters! Thank you to everyone who has helped make this world better and more understanding of those of who stutter. Your work is definitely paying off!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Forgiveness


It seems like every time I read the news there's an article about bullying.  I was never really bullied at school, but was definitely made fun of a handful of times because I stuttered.  And like it or not, those events have shaped who I've become.  So I thought I'd chime in on this bullying dilemma.

One of the sermons at church a few weeks ago was about forgiveness, and I immediately starting to think about how I could tie that into a blog post about stuttering. But then I thought:  Am I really ready to forgive the people who used to make fun of me in school?

And wow, I had no idea what kind of soul searching I would do over the next few weeks. It's easier said than done to forgive someone for something that you've been harboring in the back of your mind for years.  But it would be pretty hypocritical of me to advocate forgiving people in those situations when I couldn't bring myself to do it as well.  But at the time I found that I just couldn't do it.

Which is kind of ridiculous, in a way, because most of the incidents that I had in mind took place back when I was in middle school - which was about twenty years ago!  I mean, is it time to get over that, or what?!?

What I've found is that forgiveness is not just something that you decide to do one day.  You don't just wake up and say, "I think I'll forgive that guy for busting out laughing at me when I had a bad block in art class."

Forgiveness is a process.

And maybe it was a coincidence, but immediately after I started to ponder forgiving people for laughing at me, Facebook suggested a new friend to me - the guy who always delighted in laughing at me when I stuttered in class.  Just looking at his profile picture brought back some bad memories.

And this was my opportunity for forgiveness.

I thought a lot about that day in art class when this one kid busted out laughing at me when I had a bad block on my name.  Maybe this event is one of the reasons why I get so nervous when introducing myself in a meeting, or why my palms get sweaty when I know I have to make a phone call.  Nobody wants to be made fun of.

But I've come to the conclusion that it does no good for me to continue to harbor resentment at this guy for laughing at me all those years ago.  It's not worth being angry or ashamed at anymore.  That incident made me focus harder on improving myself and has given me more determination to not allow other people to make me feel anything that I don't want to feel.  I won't be ashamed of my stuttering just because someone laughs.  And even though introducing myself or talking on the phone can cause me anxiety, I don't shy away from it anymore.  I'm taking these things on head first.

So in a way, I should be thanking that guy.  I accepted the challenge of not being too scared to talk in public.  I refused to stop talking just because someone laughed at me.

And here's the real lesson about forgiveness that I learned over the past few weeks.  The real person that I needed to forgive was never the guy who laughed at me in art class.  It wasn't the telemarketer who laughed and imitated my stuttering while I was trying to explain to him that I wasn't interested in his product.  It wasn't the woman at the doctor's office who wasn't patient enough with me when I was trying to explain what I was there for.  The real person I needed to forgive was myself, because I have been blaming myself all these years for something that is out of my control.  If I hadn't been ashamed of myself then I wouldn't have let those people get under my skin.  It all starts with me.

I think I'm finally realizing something that maybe I've subconsciously known for a few years now:  you can't be bullied if you don't let yourself be bullied.  And so what if someone doesn't like me, or how I speak?  I used to think it was important that everybody like me, but now I think I'm more interested in just being the best person that I can be, and other people can take it or leave it.

I was always taught as a child that your real friends will stick by you, no matter what, and I've always found that to be true.  So thank you to all of my friends and family who have always been there for me.  And to everyone else?  You are forgiven!

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Fantasy Pick for the Week: Darren Sproles

It's Week 4 of the NFL season, so if you're a Saints or Chargers fan then you probably already know of Darren Sproles - the lightning fast, super-quick running back replacement for Reggie Bush.  He's probably on your fantasy team, and he's probably racking up the points.  (I have BenJarvis Green-Ellis, aka the Law Firm.  Anyone want to trade???)

But what you probably didn't know is that Darren Sproles stutters.

I love writing about people who inspire me, especially if they just so happen to stutter as well.  Sproles definitely fits in this category, and now that he's a Saint, well... that's just icing on the cake!

I learned that Sproles stuttered a few years ago when he was the Stuttering Foundation's spokesperson.  He's now featured (in his Chargers uniform) on the Famous People Who Stutter brochure provided by the Stuttering Foundation.

So Darren Sproles is now on my fantasy radar this week and every week here on out - even on the Saints bye week.  I mean, why not?  The guy's a winner.  Any person that stutters who's not afraid to get up in front of cameras during a live national TV broadcast at the end of a game and talk is a hero in my book.  And I know that Sproles is going to have a lot of opportunities to do just that, as I have a feeling that he'll be the MVP of a few games going forward.

Good luck, Sproles!  Keep up the good work, on and off the field.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Coming Back Stronger

I'm currently reading Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees. I wanted to read it because I'm a New Orleans Saints fan and because I love Drew Brees... and after having read the first few chapters about overcoming adversity and how adversity makes you stronger, I'm having a hard time putting it down!

One of the things that Brees mentions is that he has a birthmark on his face, and that he used to get asked about it a lot, picked on, etc. I've even noticed it, and have always wondered what it was. He mentions that his friends and family don't even notice it anymore, that it's not a big deal to them, and that they just accept it as being a part of him. That made me think of some of my family and friends who don't seem to notice my stutter, and how my stutter bothers me more than it does them.

Isn't family great?!

So you may be wondering, what's the big deal? It's just a birthmark, right? Right. I'm not trying to insinuate that Brees wrote Coming Back Stronger because he has a birthmark on his face. That would be kind of ridiculous. The book is mostly about Brees' life after tearing up his shoulder in the NFL, when the doctors thought he wouldn't be able to play again. But the birthmark analogy stuck with me, only because his birthmark made him noticeably different.

I think about it like this: For someone who stutters, that "birthmark" is only noticed when we speak, and otherwise, it's hidden. For Brees, his birthmark is always visible, and he gets questioned about it a lot. It's like a wheelchair, a scar, a burn, etc. It's something that he got teased because of as a kid, but instead of all that making him sad or angry, it made him tougher.

And here's the kicker... he had the choice to remove it, and he decided to keep it. He could have had a surgery and never been teased about it again. And that made me think:

If there was a drug or a surgery that could cure your stuttering, would you take it? I don't know if I would. So far I've stayed away from all of the drugs, the ear pieces, etc. I know some people who have tried various things, and they've worked for a while but then they start stuttering again. I'm glad that people are trying new ways to try to improve their speech, but I just don't know if I would do anything unless I knew it would completely work.

But what I do know is that if I had the chance to time travel into the past and make myself 100% fluent, I wouldn't do it. I don't think I would be the person that I am today if I didn't stutter. My stuttering has made me a stronger person. (Plus, I read a lot of science fiction and think that the world would be completely different if I went back in time and changed anything! I don't need the fate of humanity on my shoulders!)

But if one of my kids stutters, and if there ever is a cure... I would want my kid to get it. I think that's a parental instinct. I like to think that I would give them the choice of whether or not to get it, but I'd definitely encourage it.

Anyway, if you're looking for a great read and also want to gain some insight about how to make your stuttering into a positive experience in your life, I recommend Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees. I'm not finished with it yet, but I'm already inspired.

Who Dat!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview Tip: Don't Hide Your Stutter

Here's a tip for anyone out there who stutters and who is about to interview for a job:

Don't hide your stutter.

When I interviewed for my current job five years ago, as well as for the job before that four years prior, I didn't hide my stuttering. That's not to say that I didn't try to speak fluently - I did! But I also talked about my stuttering with my interviewers, who also went on to become my bosses.

For a person who stutters, speaking perfectly fluent in an interview is a huge accomplishment. But to me, if you are perfectly fluent and never bring up your stutter, then you may actually be selling yourself short.

The thing is, you may really want to work somewhere because the pay is good, the work is interesting, it's a cool place to work, etc. But for me, I always also wanted to work where people wanted me to be there. It wasn't just about finding the right amount of money - it was about finding the right family. You'll be spending at least eight hours a day with the people you work with, so you'll be much happier if you get along with them.

It would be a lie to say that everyone at work is completely comfortable with my stutter. I hate to hear myself talk or watch myself on video, so I'm sure there are people that I work with who don't particularly like it as well. That's OK. But your manager should at least be comfortable with it. And if you have a good manager, he or she will vouch for you if you need some extra muscle behind you.

I actually do interviews now, so the tables are turned. And what I've noticed is that everyone has something that requires a little patience on my part. One person we interviewed years ago was an extremely slow talker. Some people have thick accents that are hard to understand, especially on a phone interview. Some people are blessed with perfectly fluent speech, but talk about the most boring subjects.

I had a good talk this week with the guy who hired me for my current position. He and I had spoken about my stuttering during the interview and have spoken about it since then, but he told me that after our initial interview he went back to his team and told them that he met a guy who stuttered, that it required a little extra effort to understand what I was saying sometimes, but that he could tell that I was a really sharp guy.

It would have been easy for him to write me off due to my stuttering. But he didn't. He chose to listen, even though it took more effort. Quite frankly, those are the kinds of people that you want to work for and work with. Those are the people who you want to become your mentors. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work with people like that, and have learned a lot from working with my current team.

So... if you are going on an interview soon, don't worry too much about your stutter. You will find someplace to work that accepts you for who you are, who will foster your personal and professional development, and who will reap the benefits of having you as a part of their team.

Good luck!

Monday, May 9, 2011

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

May is "Better Hearing and Speech Month." That's right, we get our own month!

My brother is secretly jealous.

My family has already done our part for Better Hearing and Speech Month: my son recently got tubes in his ears. It's obvious that the tubes have already helped him, as he's talking a lot more. Hopefully he's hearing a lot better as well.

We recently learned that some children who can't hear might develop bad speech habits - which might ultimately lead to stuttering. I guess I knew that, but hadn't really thought about it in terms of my son needing tubes. With a genetic predisposition to stuttering, hopefully the tubes will allow my son to sidestep having a stutter.

I also put The King's Speech on my Netflix queue. I can't wait to see it again, and I'll probably buy it at some point. I read on a few of the other blogs about stuttering that I read that Colin Firth is having a hard time shaking his stutter. That's interesting. Some of my friends used to complain about their own stuttering after hanging out with me for a long period of time.

We're contagious!

I'm glad that there's a month devoted to educating people on speech and hearing issues. I think very often about how lucky I am to be alive at this particular time in history. If I had been born in a previous century, I might have been placed in a mental institution or been forced to speak with rocks in my mouth as a form of therapy. Instead, I had two caring and encouraging parents, two gifted speech therapists, great friends who never made me feel out of place, a wonderful family, and a great job.

And with the Stuttering Foundation, the King's Speech, the writers and actors who stutter, and all of my fellow bloggers putting the word out, hopefully our children will live in an even more accepting world.

Here's to May, and better hearing and speech!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Disney Lesson

My wife and I just got back from Disney, and we came away with not only magical memories but also some pretty good life lessons. Disney has a way of always fitting a moral into the story.

On our last day at the parks, we spent a few hours in the World Showcase at Epcot. When we passed through the England area, we stopped so my daughter could take a picture with Mary Poppins. I waited to take my daughter's picture while my wife and daughter waited in line.

A Disney employee (who are called "cast members") was nearby, and this particular cast member looked like he had an issue with his neck - like maybe part of it was missing or sunken. He was slightly hunched over, too. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I basically tried to distance myself from him.

While I'm actively avoiding this person, he notices my LSU hat and asks if I went to LSU or am just a fan. Turns out, he's also from Baton Rouge. Not only that, but he grew up blocks away from where my wife grew up.

It's a small world after all!

This guy's name was Mike, and he was probably the single nicest person that I met on my trip. I asked him about how he started working for Disney, where he grew up in Baton Rouge, how to go about getting a software job at Disney... all kinds of things. He was a really nice, interesting person. And quite frankly, I'm ashamed at myself for originally avoiding him.

If there's anything that Disney teaches us, it's that there's something deeper inside of us that makes us special. I'd like to thank Mike at Disney for reminding me about that. I routinely ask, if only implicitly, that people at least give me a chance to speak and to judge me by the contents of my words and not on how I say them. Yet in this case, I judged this person before even giving him a second thought.

It's good to be humbled every now and then. It reminds me that, even though my stuttering is annoying and frustrating, I'm not the center of the universe, and other people are going through similar and sometimes much worse afflictions.