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40 T/D/Y #4: Speech and Sociability

Besides years of surgery and other dental work, my cleft palate also necessitated years of speech therapy. This was an occasionally frustrating process. I knew what I was saying, why didn’t people understand me? I had a lot to say, too, so it was easy to ramble on quickly without thinking about how I was speaking, and hard to be patient and remember to speak clearly. Plus, speech practice and homework was generally boring.

I remember going to a local nursing home when I was young to see the speech therapist. I don’t remember the experience of my mom’s favorite anecdote from that time: the therapist wanted me to practice the B sound, and chose the word “banana”, which she wanted me to repeat after her. Instead of saying the whole word, though, she just said the first syllable, “ba”, and rather than repeat after her, I kept filling in “nana”—not because I didn’t understand, but because it was funny to do that. Apparently my mom was no help as she started laughing, and eventually had to take me home as it was clear we weren’t going to get anywhere that day.

The necessity of speech therapy had more profound effects upon my life than might be expected. Although I went to kindergarden at the same Catholic elementary school my two sisters attended, I went to the public elementary school down the street from my house after that, because the Catholic school didn’t offer speech therapy. As a result, I ended up with a completely different set of friends and school experience than I would have had otherwise.

My speech problems were a major contributor to my social problems as a kid. It was often hard for other kids (or adults) to understand me, and my obviously flawed speech made me an easy target for teasing. I hated to be teased, and I spent many a recess chasing kids around in a rage because they’d been mocking me, or crying because I was sick of them being mean to me. It took years for me to learn to ignore them, to stop caring what they said and just go about my business. The speech therapy helped with that, of course, as I gradually improved. Also, it was always a minority of the kids who would pick on me, and there were always some kids who looked past the difficulty of understanding me and befriended me. I was very fortunate to have some good friends right from the beginning of first grade, who more or less stayed good friends into junior high, at which point we grew apart but I had already established new friendships.

I had speech therapy through eighth grade. I remember the therapist telling me near the end, or on the last day, that we were done at that point; once I started high school, further therapy was my choice. It may also have been that I’d made enough progress that further therapy wasn’t considered necessary; I don’t recall for sure. In any case, I was relieved and pleased to be done with it. My speech was still not perfect, but generally it was clear enough, and I was aware enough of my remaining difficulties to compensate by speaking more slowly and thinking about my articulation, when necessary.

Even so, I remember in senior year getting a ride home from work with my friend and his dad, and my friend telling me the next day that his dad had said he couldn’t understand a word I said. However, by that point that sort of problem was a rarity, and within the next couple years, an odd changed happened: my speech impediment became an unusual accent. I first came across that a year or so later, when a stranger asked me a question and after I answered her, she asked if I was Scottish. This boggled my mind, and I might have blamed it on her being a senior citizen, but there was something to it as the way in which I tended to clip or slur certain sounds and emphasize others would produce a sense of a vague not-American English accent. I finally felt I had triumphed over my speech impediment in my mid-twenties: one day I was out at TGI Fridays with some friends, and the very attractive waitress on hearing me speak asked where I was from; when I explained it wasn’t a foreign accent, she said I still sounded cute. My speech impediment now made me cute to attractive women? I won! That was an outcome I’d never expected or even considered.

Every now and then I still catch myself speaking sloppily, realizing that I’m slurring some of my sounds. And if I have to address a group in some kind of formal or business situation, I usually become very focused on my speech and consciously try to speak slowly and articulate clearly. However, most of the time my speech problems are a thing of the past, happily forgotten.


Comments

( 1 wrote — Write )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 10th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
from Sue
I found an interactive software which helps to improve speech delayed problems and help build vocabulary on toddlers, young children and adult with special needs. SeeMe SPEECH COACH
has been very effective in the learning process of both children and adults. I hope you give it a try and share it with others too.
website: http://www.seemetutor.com/
( 1 wrote — Write )

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