When I look back on my childhood, there is one slightly embarrassing struggle I battled with. Until around fifth grade, I saw a speech therapist.
My mom tells the story every now and then. She took me in for a physical check up when I was about four years old. The doctor performed the exam and while he worked he talked me up. When the check up was nearing its conclusion the doctor looked at my mom and said in a disgusted tone, “Take your kid to speech!”
My mom knew I would need speech therapy. It wasn’t a total shocker that I needed help pronouncing my words. Both my parents needed speech lessons as kids. I just don’t think she was expecting to be condemned by the family doctor. Not too long after the physician’s “lighthearted” suggestion, I was attending speech classes in preschool. In fact, because I had a speech problem, it qualified me for an early start type of preschool program where I went to school with children who were either in wheelchairs or who had severe behavioral/mental problems. After a couple years in this type of classroom, I entered Kindergarten at the normal age in a mainstream class. I was just like any other kid.
However, I still didn’t pronounce all my words correctly. I struggled mightily with the “s” sound and the “th” sound…even if I didn’t think so. A couple times each week I would be pulled from class. A speech therapist would lead me down a different hall where I would practice pronunciation with her along with one or two other unlucky students who also had to do the walk of shame. We played stupid games, did tedious pronunciation exercises, and received nightly homework. It sucked so much. Overall, I considered it embarrassing and distracting to my overall education.
During fifth grade the therapist surprised me during one of our sessions with a smile and a handshake. She said I had graduated from speech. By that time I no longer had any tendency to say “shoes” like “shoezz” or “three” like “free.” Although I hadn’t said words as blatantly bad as that since probably second grade, I went through a lot of language refinement in those latter years.
Of course I never had to physically be in speech. My parents had the power to make the decision. Even when I begged them to take me out of it in third, fourth, and fifth grade, they kept me in it until the speech therapist said I was good to go. I remember classmates who talked even more messed up than me who didn’t have to attend the terrible classes. I didn’t understand it, it seemed so unfair.
But of course it all makes sense now. My mom and dad wanted me to grow up so I could talk clearly and articulately. What would have happened if I didn’t go to speech? Could my bad habits have reversed themselves naturally as time went by? Perhaps. But what if they didn’t? I would be at an extreme disadvantage as an adult trying to make my way both professionally and socially. Although I felt shame at the time, I am just glad that now as a 28-year-old guy, people can understand me (most of the time). Don’t Blink.