From Fear to Fluency

Mr. Yitzchok Weiss Offers Hope to Stutterers Around the World

Mordechai Friedman*, a 25-year-old yungerman living in Lakewood, New Jersey, recalls the first time he met Mr. Yitzchok Weiss.

“I was 17 years old, and I had stuttered all my life. My parents had dragged me to dozens of speech therapists to try to cure my stutter, but nothing worked. They even enrolled me in a special three-week program in Virginia and paid a fortune, but after a month or so of speaking clearly, my stutter came back in full force.

“My parents knew Mr. Weiss casually from shul, and he mentioned to them that he’s helped people overcome stuttering. At 17, I wasn’t interested in yet another therapist. I was doing fine socially and academically despite my stutter. But my parents pushed me, and I’m glad they did.

“Most speech therapists have you speaking slowly and unnaturally for a while, until speaking clearly becomes a habit. Mr. Weiss works differently than others. His approach is more targeted to my thoughts than the movements of my mouth. I was able to speak clearly and normally right away. He was the right shaliach for me. My stutter was gone.”

In fact, after Mordechai met his future wife for the second time, her family received information that the bachur their daughter was seeing had a stutter. She said she hadn’t noticed anything when they’d spoken.

Today, Mordechai owns his own business and speaks to CEOs and clients all the time. “My fear of speaking is gone,” he says. “I could never have done this without the help of Mr. Weiss.”

The stories pour in. The teenage girl whose stutter disappeared in a few days. The bachur who can now speak in public at a siyum, whereas he previously did not open his mouth in front of others. Who is Yitzchok Weiss, and how does he help people previously classified as incurable?

Finding a Cure for Himself

Yitzchok Weiss, 42, had the typical upbringing of a Chassidishe boy in the greater New York area, aside from one hiccup: He stuttered terribly. His parents did their best to help him; at one point he was treated at a clinic in Manhattan that had successfully cured the King of Jordan of his stutter. But nothing could make his stutter go away completely. “Sometimes my speech would improve in the therapist’s office, but then I couldn’t replicate it in the real world. Other times I would sound better for a few weeks, but then it always came back.”

After years of doing the rounds of speech therapists and other professionals, he decided to help himself. He gathered all the methods he’d learned from all his firsthand experiences and slowly, painstakingly developed a system that worked for him.

At first he tried out his newfound fluency just with his family and close friends. Then he slowly built up confidence to speak with more casual acquaintances, culminating with a drashah he gave in yeshivah.

After he married, though he worked in chinuch and other professions, he would approach stutterers he met and offer to help. “Twenty years ago, it took a long time for me to see results when helping people. Then I got it down to three months, then two months. Now, my system takes about three weeks to kick in. Most people understand how to help themselves within the first few hours, though they need to practice for a while.”

He has no degree, certificates or any formal qualifications. Yet from London to Eretz Yisrael, from Connecticut to Monsey, he’s helped many people gain the confidence to express themselves without fear. After a short while with a client, he figures out what is causing the speech impediment and then works to correct it. Mr. Weiss claims that his average time for curing stuttering is three weeks. Sometimes it takes longer, but in some cases, clients have walked out of the room after an hour or so speaking completely clearly. It sounds almost fantastical, but Inyan has spoken to several of his success stories, who vouch for his methods.

“I’m not a therapist,” he stresses. “I call myself a coach. Hashem has blessed me with a gift for zoning in on what is causing a person’s speech difficulties, and how to help them.” Though his primary work is with individuals who stutter, he also helps people with lisps and other articulation issues.

When people call him for help, his first question is, “Have you seen a professional yet?” His aim is to help those for whom conventional speech therapy has failed, and not to supplant speech therapists.

Helping Others

Mrs. L. of Monsey, New York, experienced a severely dysfunctional childhood and has been stuttering since the age of 4.

“I had been seeing a therapist for seven months to work through post-traumatic stress disorder from the trauma I endured as a child,” she shares. “But I wasn’t making any progress. Then I heard Mr. Weiss interviewed, so I contacted him. He understood that my stuttering was linked to my childhood trauma. He gave me not only easy speech exercises, but also helped me appreciate the Torah perspective on what I had gone through, so that the stuttering wouldn’t come back again.

“The few weeks I worked with him were more effective than seven months of therapy. It’s [like] a miracle; he obviously has a certain siyatta diShmaya to pinpoint the exact problem. Not only can I speak clearly now, but my marriage and parenting have been completely transformed.”

Mrs. L. found Mr. Weiss to be so effective, she decided to refer her sister as well.

Mr. Weiss’s theory is that there are several reasons why people stutter, and the trick is to identify the cause. Once that’s accomplished, he says, the rest is easy.

“I’m asked about my model for helping people with stuttering issues, but my model is that there is no model. Every person is a unique individual.”

When someone comes to him, he starts with a clean slate — getting to know the person from the inside, and not just his speech. In his estimation, 70% of hard-to-treat speech issues stem from abuse, trauma or just anxiety.

“Sometimes stuttering is just a symptom of what’s going on inside the person,” he says. “Just as some people’s hands become clammy when they’re nervous, some people’s speech becomes unclear. That’s why I must understand the person, where he’s coming from, what he’s been through. And that’s why sometimes speech therapy is unsuccessful — it may work in the bubble of the therapist’s office, but if the underlying issue isn’t resolved, it’ll come right back.”

Overcoming any issue takes work, and speech impediments are no different. Mr. Weiss requires his clients to be committed to the process, which is why he rarely sees children and prefers to work with adults who can remain steadfast and perform the required exercises. Some of the exercises are simple, even comical, but they work if the person is willing to commit.

One yungerman with a young family came to Mr. Weiss for help and was stutter-free for a few weeks. Then Mr. Weiss didn’t hear from him for a while. Later, he explained that he’d lost Mr. Weiss’ number, among other excuses. But then the stutter returned and so did the yungerman. He promised to keep up his exercise this time around, and baruch Hashem, has been speaking fluently since.

More Than a Job — A Mission

Speech is a crucial building block of communication. When someone stutters, it’s not just one small problem, but something that impacts everyday life. Stutterers find it difficult to speak up in a conversation, make small talk at a simchah, or even ask for directions. That’s why Mr. Weiss’s assistance is so life-changing for his clients. To feel as though there is hope, and so soon, from someone who really understands, is exhilarating.

Mr. Weiss never gives up on anyone and will travel to the ends of the world for his clients. Many clients fly in to see him, and he recently spent a few weeks in London seeing people back to back. “Speech therapists have gone to school and I respect their knowledge tremendously. But I have an advantage over them — I know what it’s like to stutter. I can understand the pain and shame.”

That’s why he’ll persist until he succeeds, often contacting former clients to check on them and give additional support as needed. His clients call him from around the world with what he calls “nachas calls.” They’ll share milestones, divrei Torah or just call to check in and wish him Gut Shabbos.

Ariella Soriano was 12 years old when she met Mr. Weiss, who helped her overcome her speech impediment (see sidebar). This week, Mr. Weiss received a call from her relative, Chaya, who just completed eighth grade and spoke at her graduation. There was no sign of her stutter.

Mr. Weiss has shied away from publicity until now, but the Komarner Rebbe, shlita, has encouraged him to publicize his work so as to be able to help more people.

Nothing gives Mr. Weiss more nachas than helping others overcome their challenges. His motto is “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha.

“I just want stutterers to realize there is help and that they can lead normal, successful lives, without shame.” n

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Ariella Soriano graduated Yeshiva Ktana of Waterbury this June. At her graduation, she spoke about her experience with Mr. Weiss. The Sorianos graciously shared the text of her speech with Inyan:

Reach for the Goal

There once was a girl who had a very noticeable speech difficulty. It started showing up around the time that she started going to school. It went on for a long, long time. All of the specialists she went to told her she would have to work very hard to see even a little improvement.

Her parents helped her a lot and needed to spend a lot of money on all the specialists. It wasn’t easy for her, her parents, or her family. She got called out of class, and everyone asked where she was. When she came back with papers, everyone asked If they could see them. A few times girls even asked her, (with good intentions) why she talked so funny, and she didn’t know what to answer.

When she was in sixth grade, someone suggested a man who was a specialist in this area and was willing to help her. The parents were told that this specialist works like magic; you come out of his office and your speech difficulty is fixed.

The parents called the specialist, spoke to him, and made an appointment for the closest date possible. When the long-awaited day of the appointment finally arrived, the girl and her parents woke up early and headed out for the long trip ahead.

When they got to the office, they rang the doorbell, and the man welcomed them warmly into his house. His office for meeting people was down in his basement. The parents and the girl followed him down to his office. He told the girl to go upstairs to hang out with his daughters while he got to know her parents. The girl went upstairs and had a lot of fun with the sweet little girls. A little while later, her parents called her back down to the man’s office. She went into his office shaking with fear

What would happen? Her parents left the office so the specialist could speak with the girl. The girl got the help she needed, and when she got back home, everyone was surprised at how she sounded. That summer, she finally agreed to go to sleep-away camp and her counselors and bunkmates had no clue that she just went through a difficult “recoverý” from a speech problem that now wasn’t even noticeable.

It would have been easier to just leave everything as it was, and keep on struggling, even though it caused her a lot of embarrassment every time she spoke. Though she wanted to improve, she didn’t have an easy time reaching her goal.

We all have our own struggles, some easier and some harder, but no matter how hard or how easy, it is always our job to try. If you have an end goal in sight, you’ll get there.

Mr. Yitzchak Weiss can be contacted at (929) 444-3130

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*Name has been changed.

 

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