I cannot tell the story of my life without talking about my stutter. Trust me, I’ve tried. But why?
It didn’t greatly affect my relationship with my peers growing up. I went to a private K-8 and everyone knew about my speech impediment; they were basically banned from making fun of me about it. More importantly, everyone got used to it. The only person that constantly made me feel bad about it was an older relative who I spent a lot of time with, and it was always done in a “let me fix your flaws” type of way.
Even in high school, I never really had a teacher say much about it. My mom talked to them about it at back to school night. The only teacher who I ever remember mentioning it to also stuttered, and he told me that really, us stutterers were smarter than everyone else… not dumber, as often perceived. We were thinking too fast and couldn’t get the words out quickly enough. It was nice to have someone suggest that my stutter did make me different – the obvious – but in a good way. He was one of the two teachers who changed my life in a great way.
If anything, teachers liked me more and always watched out for me. I had one person try to tease me my sophomore year of high school, and my English teacher went after them. I was always, always protected from my peers.
So what happened? Where did my self-esteem drop because of my speech impediment? Why did I think myself incapable of high levels of socialization for a career? It didn’t come from kids teasing me or even ignorant teachers.
Personally, I tie it to two things: the way society views stuttering – and, as result, the approach of speech therapy.
My personal journey brought me to speech therapy at age 4 or 5 because I was unable to make the “R” sound. I then also developed a stutter. Great way to fit in. But the shame began when I couldn’t make the stutter go away. I was praised when I was fluent, and asked if I practiced my techniques when I was nonfluent. It was handled very similar to my piano lessons.
But I couldn’t practice away my stutter. And I hated the lessons. I still think they’re stupid. There was no acceptance. No one ever asked me if I even wanted to be fluent unless it was a rhetorical question asked when annoyed at me for not practicing enough; that was heard by me more like, “Do you want to be fixed or do you want to be stuck stuttering forever?” Parents were told of my techniques and were told to make sure I did them. It was all about elongating the first sound of every single word (do you have any idea how silly that sounds?) or making my breathing all bizarre.
When I quit speech therapy after high school, it wasn’t because I accepted my speech. It was because I was tired of failing everyone. I was tired of failing myself. I wanted it to go away not because I desired fluency, but because I didn’t want to disappoint the people around me forever. I wanted acceptance. The problem with our society’s view on stuttering and with speech therapy is that acceptance only looks like fluency.
So what does that teach those of us who stutter into adulthood?
How in the world do we even begin to change this?