June 28, 2005

Proto-Inkslinger #10: Dealing with a speech impediment

Telegram Community Editorial Board
Written from Carbonear, NL
Appeared in the St. John's Telegram on June 28, 2005

Dealing with a speech impediment

We humans are social animals, and to get our ideas and concepts across to others, we talk. Some of us, however, find the simple act of talking more difficult than others. Some of us (one per cent of the world’s population, to be exact) stutter, which is a set of unusual communication patterns and odd behaviours that work together with the speech problems.

I’ve been stuttering since I was very young. Here’s a quick recent personal example: One evening a week ago, I had an intense craving for chocolate, so I drove to a convenience store to get a Mirage bar. The bars are behind the counter, so I had to ask for it.

"Um, a-a M-mmmirage bar, p-pleease." While struggling to get this simple request out, I was pointing at it. The lady behind the counter passed it to me, and with an embarrassed smile, I paid for it. I thanked her, and fled to my car.

My speech ebbs and flows. There are rare times that I can talk fluently, but more often than not, my syllables and phrases will repeat like a scratched record. When I block, I feel an intense strain on my jaw and face, and I must battle to get the word out. My self-confidence takes a dip and all I want to do is retreat. I stutter when I have to introduce myself – I always severely block on the first syllable of my own name. Phoning people is extremely difficult for me. I prefer emailing them or meeting them in person. You’d think that when I have a beer, because of alcohol’s relaxation property, I’d be more fluent. Not quite so – I get worse, actually. I find normal turn-taking conversation that everyone else takes for granted very difficult.

When I’m in a social situation, I only talk when I have to, or sometimes less, and generally keep quiet. People often comment on how quiet I am, but I’ve proven in the past that I’m not as shy as I seem. In high school, I ran for student council president, and read a speech to several hundred people. I taught classes in Cadets, and even won an award for my methods. I was a camp counselor for a summer. I’ve worked with newspapers in the past, and most recently at the library. Despite these accomplishments, I feel very small when I go into a stuttering block. I had several speech therapists when I was younger, but it was, and continues to be, difficult to put the methods I learned into practice in the chaotic world.

This is the main reason why I’ve chosen to be a writer. I prefer to write my thoughts down than to speak them. I bet when I propose to my future girlfriend, I’ll have to write it down on a slip of paper (laughs).

I often wonder how I must look to someone who is not familiar with me, or with the concept of stuttering. Those who don’t understand will grin patronizingly, snicker, tell me to spit it out, tell me not to worry, will break eye contact, or just ignore me entirely. Those who do understand will treat me like they treat everyone else: with human respect.

I have much more to say on this subject, but my space for this column is limited. If you’re a person who stutters, or if you’re curious about the subject (I’ve done a great deal of research), feel free to email me at hutchings_i@yahoo.ca.