Stuttering is a speech disorder not often heard on television, in movies, or on the radio – and when it is, it’s often as a joke at the person’s expense. Catholic Central alumnus Matthew Doneth ’12 is on the forefront of changing the narrative for those who struggle with the speech disorder. As someone who has lived with a stutter his whole life, he feels a newfound acceptance and appreciation of his stutter after realizing the breadth of change he could make in the lives of others.
This spring, Doneth was asked to join the board of directors for the American Institute of Stuttering, a nonprofit organization providing universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter. He wholeheartedly accepted, knowing firsthand how much the organization helped him.
“I’ve gone to speech therapy my whole life, but during COVID, I began working with AIS for speech therapy because they offered online sessions.” Doneth shared. However, what he appreciates most about AIS is their refreshing approach and the model they teach to patients.
“The AIS model is based on the concept of open stutter, the idea that the most difficult part of stuttering isn’t the block or the repetition, it’s everything that happens under the surface. Many times, the fear of the upcoming block is worse than the actual block. There’s mental gymnastics of always trying to hide your stutter. The AIS model is different from most speech therapy models in that at AIS, the goal isn’t fluency, the goal is acceptance – it’s a model that resonated with me.”
Stuttering is a speech disorder where someone knows what they want to say and how they want to say it but at times they have disfluency in their speech that takes the form of blocks or repetitions. It impacts around 5 percent of children and 1 percent of adults. There are 3 million people in the U.S. that stutter and 70 million worldwide.
“The main thing I am focused on as an AIS board member is bringing awareness to stuttering. Representation matters,” said Doneth. “I hope in being open about my journey it can help someone else through theirs.”
One of the ways he plans to bring awareness is through creating a professional network of people who stutter and to eventually create a mentorship program for kids and young people so they can feel confident in who they are.
“In the past year I have met amazing people who stutter. There are people in politics, finance, entertainment, there are doctors, lawyers - there are people from all walks of life who stutter,” said Doneth. “One of the things I’ve realized in being open about my own vulnerability, is that everyone is working through something, whether it’s speech, mental health, physical health – everyone has their personal vulnerability that they’re working through. What I’ve learned from my own experience is being open about it and talking about it, creates a level of authenticity that people appreciate. It has also helped me to change my own mindset about my stutter. Rather than viewing my stutter as a weakness, I have realized it’s my greatest strength. I’ve developed a level of empathy and strength through my own experiences.”
Doneth is no stranger to success. His ambitious attitude began when he was in middle school and had his sights set on attending Catholic Central, despite the 45-minute, one-way commute from his hometown in Fenton, Mich.
“Catholic Central instilled a level of belief and self-confidence in myself,” said Doneth. “The self-confidence and belief were formed by the brotherhood, classmates, coaches, teachers, – all of it – I still say every day, ‘The magic is in believing’ – a saying Coach Mach would preach to us. It’s a saying that means a lot to me and I really believe in. That belief in oneself – that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything – that belief was formed at Catholic Central.”
Doneth played varsity basketball and football during his time at CC and eventually played football at the collegiate level for Cornell University. His goal-oriented mindset launched him into a successful career at a global asset management firm in New York City.
Doneth’s advice for others struggling with a vulnerability is to find a support system.
“If it’s a family member, another classmate, coach, or teacher, find that person or group that you trust and talk to them about your struggle. Having that support system for yourself is huge. For me, my girlfriend Christin has been a huge support system and catalyst for me in changing the way I think about my stutter,” said Doneth.
Doneth wants students to know they are not alone in their vulnerabilities, and if they know someone who stutters, he hopes students will reach out to them directly.
“Stuttering is very misunderstood. It’s a paradox because often those who stutter hide it very well from the public eye, so people don’t even realize they stutter,” said Doneth. “The vulnerabilities that we each have are many times our greatest strengths. I want young people to know they can do anything they set their mind to – they just have to believe.”
Matthew Doneth lives in New York City and works at Apollo Global Management as an associate in real estate private equity. In his spare time, Matthew enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants with his girlfriend Christin. For more information on stuttering and AID, visit www.stutteringtreatment.org.