I don’t know how common this is, but my daughter was born with a ‘short tongue’, and had to have an operation to resolve this when she was about two and a half. As her speech developed, everything seemed fine, except that she spoke very quickly and seemed to almost ‘leapfrog’ words in order to get to the next one.
It wasn’t until she was a young teenager that it became clear this was a mild speech impediment which speech therapy may help. Whether caused by the short tongue or something else, we didn’t know. And it was never, in our view, serious enough to deal with.
Well … we were wrong about that. It turned out that my daughter had a huge hang-up about her speech, especially when, at the age of 13 or 14, she became unable to say her first name as it began with an A. On one occasion, when we were travelling along the motorway to meet a coach she was going to catch for travelling to a holiday residential, we realised we were going to be late. I handed her my mobile phone which, to her credit, she took. She dialled the number and spoke very clearly, but when asked for her name, thrust the phone at me which, as I was driving, wasn’t ideal. That was when I knew we had a problem.
So I persuaded my daughter to see a speech coach to have some speech therapy. This was on a session-by-session basis and the coach would come to our home for an hour each week. At first, we sat round together, but after a while, the coach – a woman – and my daughter were left alone together. I had no reason to think there was anything wrong with that, and essentially, there wasn’t … until my daughter told me one day that she was angry. I asked why, and she said that she thought the coach was supposed to help her with her speech, not do a character assassination. She’d been asked if her speech problems were more about needing attention than anything physical. Now … my daughter and I have been known to cross swords from time to time, but one thing she is not is an attention seeker, nor is she a narcissist. Needless to say, there were no more visits from the speech coach.
Not that nothing good came from that experience. However the coach had given my daughter some useful strategies and it has to be said that the ‘impediment’ reduced over the next few years. It came up in conversation a few times, and I had to let her German teacher know that it wouldn’t always be possible for my daughter to read out loud in class. And over time, the ‘impediment’ became something she had, rather than something that defined her. Now, as a student of Contemporary Theatre Practice, she has performed many times, both physically and vocally. She has taken on the role of Student Representative, which of course involves addressing audiences. She works part-time as a waitress, which involves talking to customers. Her speech can be a little fast in delivery, but I no longer feel it preoccupies her.
A Stammer Called Stephen
Recently she messaged me to say she is in the process of creating a new performance piece about her speech. She is calling it ‘Stephen’, the name she has given to the impediment. I’m not surprised by this, because throughout her life my daughter has been bold and creative and will challenge any stereotype and question anyone’s reality, including her own. The speech thing no longer hangs around like an irritating relative. The moment I got that message I knew she’d put it into her expanding array of life experiences, which is absolutely where it belongs.
Author Julie Wilson