I explained at the debate that stuttering was a profound challenge in my life, and it remains so today. And since that moment, I can’t express the level of heartfelt support and encouragement I have received from many people, including my wife, my colleagues at work, and even political opponents at the time.
And yet why did sharing this intrinsic part of myself take me so long?
After all, I have fantastic parents who never hinted that stuttering would hold me back or define me. I have been fortunate to have access to therapy to help manage my stutter. One therapist told me that I needed to stop hiding it, and that I needed to stutter more. And that’s exactly what I did. For years, I carried a counter in my pocket, like the kind used to tally people going into a stadium, and tried to voluntarily stutter 1,000 times a day. It was exhausting, but it forced me to not only shed the avoidance techniques stutterers often use—which actually make speaking fluently harder—but also move past the shame and embarrassment that so many adult stutterers feel.
Even with the best treatment, stuttering that continues into adulthood usually turns out to be a lifelong challenge. I have been on a 30-year path to greater fluency in my speech, and millions of other adults are managing their stutter every day. Moreover, stuttering is only one kind of barrier to verbal communication. About one in eight Americans—that’s 40 million people—communicate in a way that’s different from what is perceived to be the standard.