Speaking struggles lead editor on journey of self-acceptance

By: Sarah Stortz

My 7-year-old self sat all alone in a cluttered, white room inside Cedar Heights Elementary, surrounded by shelves filled with board games and toys. While looking down at my chair and dangling my tiny feet, a woman walked into the room carrying a deck of cards with her.

She told me that we’re going to spend the next hour or so playing Go Fish.

Initially, I didn’t really question why this woman took me out of my classroom and brought me there. I was just happy that I got to miss learning about subtraction in favor of playing games.

Little did I know at the time, this woman actually had a hidden motive behind this simple card game.

Earlier, my teacher had requested for me to see the school’s speech therapist after noticing that I struggled with a lisp. More specifically, I had an incredibly hard time pronouncing words with a “sh” or “ch” digraph. Whenever I said a word with these digraphs, I would overly exaggerate pronouncing them, almost like I’m making a spitting noise. This is a problem that I probably had ever since I could talk, but I never became aware of it until then.

The speech therapist knew that I would frequently say the word “fish” while playing this game, so she she took this as an opportunity for me to rehearse speaking words that I couldn’t say.

I still remember her constantly directing my speech whenever I was playing. “Don’t stretch your mouth out so much when you speak. Move it more forwards like this,” she said.

As a young child, I never truly understood why she felt the need to constantly correct my pronunciation like this. I figured as long as people knew what I was talking about, why would it matter how pronounced certain words?

The effect did eventually start to wear on me, though, and after a couple months of speech therapy, I received a certificate stating that I successfully completed my sessions, smiley face stickers and all.

However, that didn’t last long. Only a couple weeks later, I quickly forgot how to properly enunciate, and my speech patterns were just like before. Despite my teacher’s annoyance, I really didn’t mind this at all, and the rest of the world around me didn’t seem to care either.

Lisps aren’t very uncommon with small children who are just learning how to speak, so if anything, having a lisp was just another cute, childish quirk that I had at the time.

That started fading away almost immediately when I first started going to junior high. The cuteness factor of having a lisp now seemed dorky, and for a good duration of junior high, I had face different peoples in my classes who would ask me, “Why do you talk like that? Don’t you know how to speak?”

The tone of my classmates and the way they said that just felt incredibly condescending. Of course I know how to speak. I’ve been speaking for as long as the rest of you, haven’t I? I just do it a little differently. All of the remarks from everybody made me feel so bad about myself that I almost didn’t want to speak up at school.

Thankfully, I found most people in high school are mature enough not to comment on my lisp. Nonetheless, I still feel an aura of judgement from others whenever I talk to them. What I think many people don’t realize about lisps is how many people with them actually feel insecure about it and how hurtful it is whenever it’s brought up. They’re in a very similar vein to body image in that they’re both aspects that you have little control over, but lisps are nowhere near discussed as often. I still wish I could’ve heard more about speech impediments and how much it affect others, especially when I was younger.

I am now an 18-year old adult who is planning to move out and attend a college 80 miles away in less than a year. I’m about to meet a whole new slew of people with their own individual stories in a new town.

When I introduce myself to these people and tell them my story, I fully intend on speaking to them with my lisp.

Almost all of my life, others have tried to get rid of my lisp, and I knew that I couldn’t just let them take something away from me like that. I think a lisp brings a unique charm to a person’s voice that I love to hear, and I couldn’t be prouder to have that same type of charm in my own voice. I’m finally at a point where I can say that I love my lisp with all of my heart, something I never thought I could do five years ago.

Without my lisp, I never would have gone through the process of self-acceptance, and that will always carry more significance than pronouncing a bunch of words as everyone else expects to hear them.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.