Raising Awareness of Speech Struggles

Echo Davis

Communication plays a huge role in life.  You have to be able to communicate for just about everything. So, what happens when someone struggles to do that? Now, I’m not talking about different languages, even though that is another barrier in the way of communication.  Most anyone is able to learn a new language; however, I am talking about speech impairments. Speech impediments can range from the smallest stutter, or not being able to pronounce a few sounds, to not being able to say a single word without stuttering, and mispronouncing almost every sound and letter while knowing it will never be fully ‘fixed’. It can also include things like swallowing disorders that affect your speech, or things such as language disorders. Either way, it is still a huge problem that many face.

I can tell from personal experience how difficult it is. Not being able to talk ‘properly’ has affected everything I do. The everyday struggle of overthinking what I am about to say, and making sure to talk slower and still being prepared to repeat myself a few times before I am understood.  There are also struggles with issues at school; rather, it is issues with other students or even the teachers. Now, while I do have an IEP for my speech, it does not help when teachers choose to ignore that. There have been many times I have had to get my parent or my speech therapist involved because the teacher thought pushing me to do a presentation in front of the class, calling on me to answer a question or read out loud, and just ignoring the IEP altogether to push me out of my comfort zone was the best way to help with my ‘anxiety’.   My anxiety is not the reason my IEP excuses me from those things.  I struggle with a speech issue called speech apraxia, and I have been in speech therapy for it since kindergarten.   Speech therapy does help.  However, my speech apraxia makes me struggle with almost every sound, and it can not be fully ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’.  So it is something I will always struggle with and something that will continue to affect my daily life. I could go on about the challenges my speech impediment has caused me, but that is just my personal experience and that would be a bit biased, would it not? So in order to fully get the effect of it, I gathered other information from other students with a speech impediment as well as talked to some teachers to see how they offer help.

D.J.  Lydelle is another student who struggles with a speech impediment. His speech impediment is one that is called gliding.  It makes him struggle with the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’, where he basically replaces them with a ‘y’ or ‘w’ sound. It is a very common speech impediment, and it usually resolves itself, but that is not always the case. He has been taking speech therapy since kindergarten.  He feels as if it does not help; which can be the case for some.  Even if he can not hear it, others have seen his improvement and can tell it is helping him. He has an IEP for his speech, as well.  Though he is more confident and would be okay without one. Some bigger challenges he faces because of his speech are job interviews and presentations.  Both of which are very important in life, not to mention all the other problems he has faced with it. 

While speech impediments like mine and D.J.’s are bigger ones that affect our pronunciation and whatnot, there are other forms of speech impediments, as well. I was able to talk to another student, who does not wish for their name to be mentioned, that struggles with stuttering. Even though many choose not to believe it for some unknown reason, stuttering is a form of speech impediments. Now, their stuttering is not as bad as it could be, but it is still a huge holdback for them. They do not take any speech therapy for it, but it is still a valid speech issue. A lot of people do not believe that someone could have an actual speech problem unless it is diagnosed and they are doing something to “fix” it.  This is utter nonsense, in my opinion.  Because of those thoughts, speech impediments are thought of as not being as common as they actually are.  If people could see how common they are, speech impediments could be seen as normal.  They are normal and those of us who have them should not be ashamed of them. 

 I was able to talk to some teachers about how they deal with students who struggle with this. One of the classes that I feel is most dependent on oral communication is Journalism.   I sat down with Mrs. Dickens and was able to get her views, and thoughts about it. She teaches a few different classes, some of which are Journalism I  and II and another being Public Speaking.  Both of those include a need for students to be comfortable talking.   Journalism because of interviews and such, and public speaking because of well, public speaking.  In that class, she has her students practice things like presentations, toasts, and other examples of public speaking.  She says that most students in her classes have anxiety during presentations and things like that.  She tries her best to calm them down by saying how everyone tends to struggle with talking in front of a large audience. Everyone has at least one not-so-great presentation; she also tries to make it clear that her room is always a safe zone for her students(which I personally think she does an amazing job with). She also provides many alternatives for students; things such as writing assignments, offering one-on-one time to talk or present, and she’s very willing to talk to the student to see what would help them best. 

Another teacher I had the opportunity to talk to was Mrs. Dixon. She is the teacher of a few different subjects, two of which are Creative Writing and English. Most of the assignments in her classes include writing and reading; not much talking unless they are having discussions.  In their discussions, students do not have to speak out unless they want to.  If they did want to include something in the talk but are not comfortable with talking to the class, they have options like emailing Mrs. Dixon beforehand or writing it down for her to share with the class. For the students who are not comfortable talking in her classes, she gives them many different options on talking to her privately; things like emailing, coming to her after or before class, and more. She makes her classroom a very open and safe space for her students, so it is easier for them to be comfortable and come up to her. For students who have IEPs, she tries to involve her whole class in that other way of learning so the student does not feel singled out, out of place or anything of the sort. 

Since those are all more personal views on speech, I talked to Meredith Dunham, my speech therapist and just one of the speech therapists at Waverly Schools. She received her degree in 2015 and started doing speech therapy in schools in 2016. She always knew she wanted to go into something that would help others communicate because as a young child herself, she struggled with a tongue thrust that caused a lisp.  Since then, she understood how important communicating is, and she did not want others to not have a way of doing it. She was able to talk about how many speech impediments and barriers there actually are, which is a lot; so much in fact, that no one quite knows for sure how many there are. Mrs. Dunham is the speech therapist for many students at Waverly Schools, though she is not the only one.  She mostly stays in the high school and junior high, though she does help some students in the intermediate level, another speech therapist helps with the rest. 

Luckily, public schools are legally required to offer this kind of help for kids.  Private schools however, are not.  This can lead parents to delay getting speech therapy for their child, since it is so expensive for even just one session.  This delay could also lead to many other issues. Kids are usually diagnosed around ages four and five for speech. Depending on the speech struggle and how willingly the child is to practice and to get better, it can take months or even years of speech therapy and practice.  So if someone were paying out of pocket for it, it could be anywhere from $100-$300 for each hour-long session.  It could quickly lead to being a very pricey thing. This seems very unfair since communication is something everyone needs. 

Mrs. Dunham likes to tell others just how serious a speech/language barrier can be; she does so by relating it to more well-known disabilities/disorders. One of the phrases she uses when talking to kids about someone with a speech issue is, “Take cancer, for example.  You would not make fun of someone who is losing hair or is bald because of cancer would you? It is the same thing with this.  Maybe a  child does not talk or sound like you guys, but it is not their choice, and it is not something they can control.” This is an amazing way to teach kids about someone with a speech/language problem.  It shows that this is an actual disability, even if it is not like more known ones. It teaches the kids basically not to make fun of someone, especially not for something they can not control. 

Many things affect speech, and more are being discovered every day. Things like hearing, swallowing disorders, tonsil problems and more can also affect one’s speech. To learn about some other language & speech impairments, go here: Language Disorders or Speech and Language disorders

Speech and communication plays a huge role in our community.  Being able to be understood is so important. For someone who struggles with that, it is very important to them that others are aware of why. Over the years I have dealt with this, I have realized not many people are aware of the effects and other problems my speech impediment has caused me, or the challenges someone with a speech impediment faces. Speech and language disorders need to be more okay in our society.  No one deserves to be bullied or held back in life due to something they can not control. In the future, I hope people are more open and understanding of the struggles that we face. Thank you for reading, and please keep in mind, we are all still people trying to have fun and make something out of ourselves.