"Take that gum out of your mouth," My first speech therapist told me at three years old.
"I don't know how to," I said a little scared. You could tell my speech therapist was getting a little more irritated as I continued to look at her confused.
"Just grab it and pull it out," She tried to calmly instruct me. Feeling my cheeks go red, I reached into my mouth and tried to grab my gum...the definition being the tissue that surrounds the necks of teeth and covers the alveolar parts of the jaws broadly according to Merriam-Webster ... and pulled. Just spit it out, she ordered as I could feel the tiny tears grow in the corner of my eyes as I continued pulling and spitting.
At the end of the session I would later learn that she was referring to chewing gum, which I did not have. But at three years old, I had no idea what she was referring to by saying just "gum". This for most would mark just one of the cute little kid misunderstandings they would have. However for me, it would be the start of what I can remember of my long struggle with words.
Please do not laugh my pronunciation. Please do not correct me. Please do not try and help me as I am half way through a word.
"Phytoplankton," some random kid in class correcting me as I am trying to pronounce the word correctly.
"Thanks," I most often mutter under my breath.
Having speech therapy issues suck and it is so under recognized the affect it has on people both academically and socially. As a child I would spend portions of my day in the Special Ed Department having "special" classes as my other classmates would get to be having fun, interactive lessons and doing group projects. Meanwhile I sat in a crammed corner office practicing my "Thhh" and "Shh" sounds over and over again. I was always teased for getting pulled out of class and I remember as an eight year old just wanting to burry myself in my desk every time the Special Ed department would come and pick me up from my regular classroom setting.
Now, 14 years down the line I may have gotten my "Thh" sounds down, but the affects of my speech therapy issues still remain. I can't just look at a big word and say it. I need to sound it out. I just can't just read it and say it like I can read it in my head. I'm not stupid and I know what the word means, but when it comes to reading it and pronoucing ever syllable it is hard. As I dive deeper in broadcast journalist and mock trial, there are times that I question my purpose of being there. Why am I here? What if my voice impairments make it hard for others to hear me? The worse is when you keep trying. And you can feel everyone else around you getting tired as they hear you for the sixth time trying to pronounce a word. Or, you get teased about the way you say something. Oh, no no it sounds cute, they say. But as you smile and try to shake it off, deep down you really are like...dude I'm not trying to be cute. I just trying to get my thoughts out there.
Academically, its hard. Class participation is basically a festival of nerves every day in class. You want to speak up, you got the ideas, but you often feel silenced and that you need to be quite. That if you speak, it becomes too much of a burden to the other students to hear you. If you volunteer to read out load, nobody will understand as well as they might with someone else. For me, this extended into my languages and written abilities as well. I would hear certain things growing up and would go to write them. More then often, very, very incorrectly. I would hear different sounds in words that others wouldn't hear. Making my spelling a mess. I'm not dumb, I remember thinking to myself, I just don't hear what you are saying.
Socially, I have always felt frozen when it comes to talking. Tongue tied, if you will. I have always been surrounded by girls who can use their words like a noose. And then there is me, if I even try to have a come back, my words get twisted. I know what I want to say in my head, but between the nerves and pressure, it all comes out as a mess. They laugh.
Please do not correct us. Do not pity us. Do not try and help.
We got this. We are smart, even if it may take us an extra minute to talk and get our ideas out there.
Don't lower us. Cause we are just as smart and can be powerful with our words just as anyone else.
Someday we will be able to say those "big" words with out an issue. But today, we are just going to have to take an extra moment before crushing it.