I grew up with a very mild speech impediment.
In comparison, my case was very mild. I was probably the least afflicted kid out of all the kids in my speech class. I feel it’s very important to make the distinction because my negative experience of speech problems was nothing compared to what some of the other kids in my speech class went through.
Middle school kids are ruthless. A lot of speech class was more like therapy sessions and coping sessions to figure out how to navigate the day without being made fun.
My speech teacher’s name was Mrs. Boop.
She was delightful. I appreciated her so much and as I get older, I appreciate her even more. I wish I knew where to find her so I could properly thank her.
I still remember the day she pulled me out of class and told me that she didn’t think I needed speech therapy anymore. I actually asked her if I could keep coming anyway because I felt so safe in that class and I had built such a great relationship with all the other students in the speech class with me.
I couldn’t pronounce the “r” sound. So instead of being able to say “mirror,” I would say the “miwwaahh”.” Or instead of saying the word “right” I would say “white.”
I really feel for people who have speech problems.
Even at 34, I can vividly recall the times when I was picked on for my speech problems. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for people with severe stutters or lisps.
Trying to say a word that you just can’t say is truly exhausting. The way people (especially young people) cope with these problems is by avoiding eye contact, avoiding conversation, or by intensely rehearsing the answers they will give to questions that haven’t even been asked yet.
It’s better to be silent than to be labeled as stupid.
The cruelest aspect of having speech problems is that you are labeled as stupid. Let’s remember that it was only until recently that the scientific term for not being able to speak was “dumb.”
Anyway, I started writing this post as a short recap of an article I read this morning about Joe Biden and his stutter. My intention was to break down this piece and pull out the important parts so I could curate it and share it with my audience.
But the more I wrote, the more I realize that I’m not writing about Joe Biden, I’m writing about the speech therapists who do the grueling work of helping children who are riddled and filled with frustration.
You know that teacher you had in high school that really helped you and opened your eyes to a certain subject? We all have a history teacher or a math teacher that we remember.
Well every single kid with speech problems remembers their speech pathologist.
Every. Single. One.
I hope you read the article. But more than that, I hope you take a moment to appreciate the work these people do.
I hope you talk to your kids about bullying and let them know that making fun of another kid with a speech problem is a sign of weakness and not strength.
Most of all, I hope you take a moment to reflect on any time you may have thought someone was stupid or made a subliminal note about someone’s intelligence because of the way they spoke.
Those little eye rolls or dismissive gestures get noticed. Believe me.