November 1, 2013 Columns

E-luminations: On Remembering My First Days of School

His son's first days of school remind the author of his struggles to express himself in class—and of the SLP who helped him conquer his disfluency.

Marc Anderson

I never imagined myself running an online ESL training company after stuttering for the first 11 years of my life. When I brought my son, Daniel, to kindergarten on his first day of school this past week, I was reminded of my first years of school and how difficult it was for me to speak. Daniel's classmates all were excitedly talking at once about their new backpacks and shoes. As the teacher introduced herself, Daniel shouted out, "Daddy, I'm going to play with my new friends," then he hugged me and ran off to explore the new classroom with confidence.

My first day of formal schooling was quite different. I remember barely speaking to anyone, and when I was called on, it was very hard to get the words out. And then I would s-t-u-t-t-e-r. I could rarely share my thoughts and feelings. I suffered from anxiety and stress and often felt embarrassed and frustrated. I was fearful of being called on in class and worried that others would make fun of me and laugh when I struggled to speak.

My kindergarten teacher was very understanding and insightful. She conferenced with my parents and recommended me to a speech-language pathologist (commonly known as a speech therapist) in Kingston, Ontario, not too far from where I lived with my family. And so I began the weekly speech and language remediation sessions that lasted for seven years. I liked going for the one-on-one therapy sessions, as my speech teacher was very helpful and knowledgeable. We would work together on certain phonetic sounds and words. Sometimes we would play language games. It was fun. My teacher was very patient and told me stories of how she used to stutter when she was my age, which made me feel better. And always I was given a few weekly homework exercises that targeted some type of oral communication to help improve the interruptions, blockage and fragmentation of my sounds.

I couldn't wait to practice the oral exercises the minute I got in the car for the ride home. I would say the dialogue to my parents until I had each part memorized. And I was so proud to repeat this with my teacher the next week as she praised me for my hard work. Looking back, I can see that through a combination of my hard work, the help of my parents and teachers, and the professional expertise of the SLP in Kingston, I was able to overcome stuttering and improve my overall communication. Throughout my elementary school years, as I continued with the language therapy, I readily formed friendships and increasingly enjoyed communicating in all settings—home, school and the community.

Facing this challenge has helped me immensely as an individual. It has taught me to address problems and try to remedy them with consulting others, knowledge and hard work. It has taught me to persevere and not to give up. It has taught me patience in dealing with others and the importance of encouragement.

It has been about two decades since I was dismissed from therapy, having met the outlined goals of successfully coping with my communication disorder of stuttering. Sometimes I still have difficulty with certain words, but I try to remember the lessons and skills I received from my speech teacher and I focus intently on what I need to say. I remember that she, too, stuttered, but now she spends her time helping students much like me.

Today I am comfortable in social settings and with casual and formal conversations. Whether it is speaking on the phone, directing meetings with staff members, teaching ESL students or working with contractors from around the world, I have the language skills to accomplish these tasks. What's more, my confidence level has soared and reinforced my ability to be a competent business owner.

Looking back, I am extremely grateful for the early intervention I received to help me remedy my speech and language problem. I look forward to hearing my son chatter about his first days of school so I am continually reminded of the long way I have come, and I always will be appreciative for the differences that SLPs can make for the lives of their students. I guess that although I never really imagined myself running an online ESL training company because of my own background with a speech disability, now I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. Seeing individual student gains in language acquisition (listening, speaking, reading and writing skills) and an increase in their confidence levels is very rewarding.

Marc Anderson, is the chief executive officer of TalktoCanada Corp in Barrie, Ontario, and blogs at www.talktocanada.com/blog. marcanderson@talktocanada.com

cite as: Anderson, M. (2013, November 01). E-luminations: On Remembering My First Days of School. The ASHA Leader.

  

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