How my Speech impairment Bonded my Family
While unpacking my speech impairment with my mother, I learned the power of speech and the resilience of my family.
My family first noticed I was having difficulty with language around the age of five. I started by mispronouncing a few words, and soon after, developed a stutter. Thanks to access to speech therapy and a really invested family, the stutter left my mouth, and my speech eventually improved. Even so, the experience has influenced everything from my relationships to my confidence.
The first time I got paid to give a speech, my mother was visibly emotional. She said that she didn't think public speaking would be in my realm of possibilities. It made me realize that I didn't fully understand her relationship with my speech. Did she feel that it was her fault? Was it a burden? I asked these questions and more, in a conversation that helped me understand the relief in her voice.
My family's journey with my speech impairment has turned into a default story recited at almost all of our holiday gatherings. There's that time my mom thought I was saying "shit," when I was saying "sis." The crowd favorite is how I had my brother at my beck and call, serving as my official spokesperson.
According to speech pathologist Shreya Chaturvedi, when a clinician assesses a child, they're first focused on determining if a speech pattern is typical for the particular dialect the child speaks. "The goal is to determine if the child primarily hears Standard American English, African American English, or other variations," said Chaturvedi. As a kid, I didn't think my black and white family spoke different languages, but now that I'm older, I understand that each had their own unique delivery, words, and style.
Chaturvedi also shared that early intervention and intensive therapy are critical to correct or reduce speech and language disorders. Thankfully, my early intervention came in the form of Mrs. Young, a speech therapist who I saw two times a week with a small group that steadily dwindled year after year. I dreaded Tuesdays and Thursdays, embarrassed that I had to be taken out of class because I couldn't just "spit it out." Eventually, the work and patience Mrs. Young put into helping me vocalize my thoughts and feelings began to materialize. I slowly began to lose my stutter, and my pronunciation improved. Today, my problem areas are words with the letters "R," "W," and "U" close to each other. Reuters, Wranglers, and rottweiler are some of the words I actively avoid saying, but when they do slip into my lexicon, their presence can be overwhelming.
It’s easy to remember the good and ignore the bad, especially when it doesn’t make for a good story. While that's extremely necessary to survive in this world, it can also create a revisionist history that helps us avoid unpacking painful experiences. By choosing to unpack my speech impairment, I've learned the power of speech and the resilience of my family. Now, when words like Reuters, Wranglers, or rottweiler slip out of my mouth, it will be with full knowledge of what it took for the Clouds to clear and the Sun to emerge.