Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Me Talk Normal One Day"--My Adventure in Speech Therapy

David Sedaris, often heard on Public Radio's "This American Life" writes in his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, about being condemned to speech therapy sessions while in elementary school:
My therapy sessions were scheduled for every Thursday at 2:30, and with the exception of my mother, I discussed them with no one. The word therapy suggested a profound failure on my part. Mental patients had therapy. Normal people did not. I didn't see my sessions as the sort of thing one would want to advertise, but as my teacher liked to say, "I guess it takes all kinds." Whereas my goal was to keep it a secret, hers was to inform the entire class. If I got up from my seat at 2:25, he'd say, "Sit back down, David. You've still got five minutes before your speech therapy session." If I remained seated until 2:27, she'd say, "David, don't forget you have a speech therapy session at two-thirty." On the days, I was absent, I imagined she addressed the room, saying, "David's not here today,  but if he were, he'd have a speech therapy session at two-thirty."
David Sedaris' experience reminded me of my own sentence to speech therapy while in junior-high. Without any prior warning, I along with two others in my class were escorted to a small room near the principal's office. We were the only ones in this windowless little room with a tall balding man who announced himself as Dr. Millar. 

This was the day I discovered that my "s's" were sibilate which means uttered with a hissing sound or otherwise known as a lisp.  I also had problems with the "th" sound. Dr. Millar had me say "birthday" over and over, and it came out as "burfffday." I had a problem with the "th" sound as well as the "s." 

There's a certain stigma attached to one who is sentenced to speech therapy--at least for me there was. In my school, we had a room 13 where all the "slow" or "mentally-retarded" students, otherwise known as "retards" were sent. This was long before political-correctness and besides, when have junior-highers ever cared about what was PC anyway? Some kids in my class would come up to me and ask if I was spending time in room 13. Eventually, word got out that I was in speech therapy and some kids started to make fun of the way I talked, which made me want to crawl into a hole and die. I was always pretty talkative but when I and my friends discovered my lisp, I found that I talked a whole lot less. I didn't want to give them any additional ammo in their assault against my lisp.

While sentenced to speech therapy, the one thing that made it bearable each week was the presence of the other two students in our threesome. Patty and Polly Waddell, twins, who both spoke with a lisp. Patty and Polly were both pretty and popular, so these weekly sessions gave me more time to get to know them. Since the three of us were stigmatized by the same speech impediment, we stuck together, becoming good friends. 

Our weekly sessions included going over picture cards with different sounds and speaking into a small tape recorder which was then played back to us. Dr. Millar instructed me that when forming an s, to position the tip of my tongue against the rear of my top teeth right up against the gum line. At first, this was awkward and hard to do. My tongue seemed to fight against this, but with continued work, I eventually was able to get my "s" to sound normal. 

I remember Dr. Millar drilling us on the plural for desk. He would point to the desk we were sitting in and say, "Now tell me, what the word is for more than one desk?" The three of us would say, "deffffff" or "dessss." Eventually, with tons of patience on the part of our therapist, we learned to say the plural for desk. In fact, I discovered that most of my friends in school could not say the plural for desk properly. I went around asking them to say "desks" which most of them couldn't do. Invariably they pronounced it "dessss." This put a stop to my critics who found other victims to tease and embarrass, and after awhile, life returned to normal.

Looking back, I am thankful that I was forced to undergo speech therapy. Most of the people living in the South could use some speech therapy since they seem to evidence a "lazy tongue" and mispronounce so many words or make up words. But to be fair, folks from Boston have their own set of speech problems. 

To this day, I am aware of the need to enunciate properly with my tongue against the rear of my teeth and I'm thankful I can pronounce the word "desks." Try it. 

1 comment:

  1. Great Post. My wife is condidering going back to school to be a speach and language therapist. We were just talking about it yesterday!