An 8-Year-Old’s Essay

If you haven’t seen this, go read it now, it’s wonderful. I never thought to articulate my stutter at such a young age, and this kid does it so well. And I can totally relate — I read a ton when I was young.

A brain pond is like a normal pond except there are no fish, there are only words instead. The pond in Bella’s head is very cramped, because she reads a lot.

Stuttering through Lunch

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

Before going to a workshop on What’s Hot in Stuttering Research, I went to … lunch.

There was a First Timer’s lunch, so I grabbed a bagged lunch and headed into the hall. Round tables. Chairs. Strangers. Flashbacks to getting seated at weddings. Having to introduce myself to strangers. Danger! I was already halfway into the room, so no turning back. Wait! You’re here to meet people! No, no! Where’s someone I know? Anybody? I looked around. I was still walking. I was being told where to sit and …

Seated.

Next to a stranger. Other strangers at the table. Someone I know seated next to me! Bonus!

(This is the kind of push-pull that I went through at the conference every day — I’m here to stutter and meet new people. But I’m also holding on to my old ways and fears.)

Alright, let’s get through the introductions. Not all the seats were filled, so that was good. Less stressful at least. The person to my immediate right was not someone who stuttered. She was a speech language pathologist. Well now, this is an interesting change of pace.

While talking to her, I was paying much more attention to my speaking and stuttering. I wasn’t stuttering as much. I wanted to “reset” things after all the stuttering I was doing over the past few hours. Need to keep moving on! Forget the stutter! I talked mostly about my stutter, growing up with it, the job I had now, how awesome the conference was going so far.

She told me about the kind of work she did in the southwest — working at a school district. One thing she said really struck me though — that they needed to do a plan for each student. And then measure progress against that plan. But then … if there’s no cure for stuttering, how could they measure progress?

I haven’t spoken to a lot of SLPs at all (remember, just coming out with all this) so I’d be very interested to hear how this works. I mean, I can see how confidence could increase, how some situations could get better (me ordering at Subway and Starbucks, for instance) but sometimes you just have a bad day, right?

I also wonder if any of this was in play when I did speech therapy during elementary school and high school. Did they figure I was getting better or figure I wasn’t having any serious school issues … so … no need for further therapy?

Starting therapy and the rest of elementary school

In third grade, big changes started happening. I remember getting put into the gifted program (or maybe I was before, but now some of us were also in a separate group during regular class time) and my teacher, Mrs. Baker, telling me that while I did have a stutter, it wasn’t as bad as her uncle’s.

Even though I was being singled out for this, I wasn’t being held back by my stutter. I wasn’t letting it get in my way because I actually didn’t know any better. I was still doing very well in school, and scoring near the top of every test and quiz that was given. I knew almost all the answers in class as well.

While I haven’t asked my parents, I’m guessing this is around the time that the school district started talking to them about my stutter. My parents never talked to me about it anyway. Then in either third or fourth grade, I started speech therapy at school. It was what, maybe an hour or 45 minutes per week.

Like Jack before me, I would leave the classroom and see the therapist, a lady whose name I forgot. We’d sit down and chat, she’d make me say some sounds, some words, some sentences. And for the most part, I wouldn’t stutter at all. I was very comfortable. The nice thing was that nobody ever said, ‘hey, you need to fix this otherwise it’ll ruin your life forever.’ No, it was more of a break from classes to go chat with this nice lady, and that was that.

In fourth and fifth grade, I continued the speech therapy. And the gifted program. Thinking back on it, by fifth grade, I was very comfortable and confident. Knew pretty much everybody in the class, and got along well with them. Never got into any trouble. During a music class (while singing — or, you know, trying to sing) I discovered what anybody who stutters knows — that I didn’t stutter while singing. I thought this was pretty interesting albeit not very useful. My life wasn’t about to become a musical, after all.

I don’t remember the stuttering being a huge problem because we weren’t raising our hands and giving long descriptive answers. It was a quick word or number or whatever. Oral book reports or presentations … yeah, didn’t have those either that I recall. So things were going pretty well.

In our school district, the elementary school ended in fifth grade. Then it was time to get dumped into the junior high school (we called it middle school) for grades 6-8. A much bigger pool of kids, and a lot more uncertainty. But I’ll get to that in a little while. Let’s take a break and talk about how awful the telephone is for the next few days.

Starts with an eye

Aside from reading to the kindergartners in first grade that I mentioned yesterday — and really, I don’t even remember the actual act of reading, just that I did it (I still have the book at my parent’s house) — I don’t recall any speaking out loud in first grade.

But in second grade, that’s when I remembered the stuttering started.

A family friend told me a simple story, the crux of which was, “his eyes were so itchy, he scratched them out.” No idea about the story’s other details …

Anyway, as a seven-year-old, I thought this was earth-shattering stuff, and so, when it was time for open sharing or book time or whatever (I remember we were all sitting on a carpet together) I raised my hands and told his random bit of information for everybody’s benefit. And I stuttered on the word “eye.”

For the rest of second grade, I don’t remember any other “public” speaking. What I do remember is one of the kids, Jack, going to “speech.” The teacher would tell him once a week that it was time for “speech,” and off he’d go. Years later I realized what was up — Jack had a lisp.

My entire elementary school life (and the rest of it, for that matter) was devoid of bullying. Nobody ever said anything negative about the way I spoke. I think the reason for this was because I was somewhat smart, and usually knew the answer to whatever was going on. And I wasn’t afraid to offer up help if anybody asked.

It wasn’t until third grade that I started seeing the school-provided therapist (I think) and I’ll get to that tomorrow.

Karma

I think this week I’ll go back through some quick elementary school stories of stuttering. There’s not as much to say about these since those days are pretty vague. Also, it’s important to date this — times before the Internet and easy information. So it’s something like 1985-6 for first grade …

When I was a teenager and stuttering all the time, I wondered a lot what was causing this. I thought it might be something physical — maybe landing on my back or front all those times playing football in the backyard with my brother. Then, since we were being brought up to believe in God, maybe it was something bad I had done a long time ago that I was being punished for? What exactly could that be?

Ah, that’s right. First grade. During first grade, all of the students had the opportunity to read a story book to the kindergarten class. All you had to do was sign your name up on a list, and then you’d be the person for that week. Well, not being on top of things, of course I forgot about signing up. And the end of the year was coming. If I added my name to the bottom of the list now, I wouldn’t have the chance to read to them. But I really, really wanted to read to those kindergartners! (No idea why). So I simply went up to the list, erased someone else’s name, and put mine on there. (yes, I’m a terrible person) Done! And a few weeks later, I was reading to the little kiddies. I don’t remember stuttering at all in first grade, by the way.

Clearly that must have been the cause of the stuttering! Not only were you devious about signing up, but it was a verbal activity! And now your oral prowess would be compromised for life.

Obviously that wasn’t it, but this is the kind of thing that runs through your young mind when you have nowhere to turn.

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