Speech & language therapists are vastly underappreciated
7th September 2021
David Scott writes about the impact his childhood speech & language therapist had on him. He just wishes he was more appreciative at the time.
I first recall stammering in primary 4, although I probably had it before then obviously. My parents arranged for me to see a speech therapist (they were never referred to as speech & language therapists then). Sadly, it didn't affect my stammer at all.
Then, to my horror, we moved from a small village in the country, where I was at school with only 35 other pupils, to a faraway town with a school of 360 pupils! I became the shy kid with the funny accent who stammered. Oh, and the icing on the cake was that my father is a minister so that singled me out even more.
My parents then arranged for me to see another speech therapist. This involved being taken out of class, which of course drew attention to my stammer even further. I was not happy, believe me.
The upshot of all this was that my poor speech therapist became the focus of my resentment. This wasn't helped by the fact that she was a young lady dealing with a pre-teen boy who wasn't keen on sharing details of any vulnerability with the opposite sex. It wasn't looking hopeful.
...something seemed to click in my head. 35 years later, I can vividly remember to this day almost knowing immediately that it would work for me.
I recall our first session, with her asking me to read some text, which I did, seething with self-conscious animosity. She then said we were going to try something called 'continuous voicing'. I mentally told myself this wouldn't work and prepared for more disappointment. My therapist then described what continuous voicing was and something seemed to click in my head. 35 years later, I can vividly remember to this day almost knowing immediately that it would work for me.
Basically, continuous voicing involved me deliberately slurring my words when I spoke so that they all ran into each other (I understand it has other names too, like 'slow prolongued speech' or 'easy onset'). It sounded ridiculous and I must admit I was embarrassed and glad I was only doing it in private.
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With practise however (and expert guidance from my speech therapist), the slurring became less and less obvious until I ended up doing it subconsciously. This got me past the letters at the start of words (mostly hard sounds but quite often soft sounding letters too) that were causing me difficulty.
We tried it with some text and although it was still a work in progress, I was convinced this would help me. I remember actually going home that afternoon and telling my parents that I was 'cured' and didn't need to see her again. Thankfully, my parents were wise enough to see past my boyish optimism and persuaded me to complete the sessions.
I understand my stammer is not cured by the way, but for me, continuous voicing gave me a workaround where techniques like breathing exercises had failed.
I never looked back and became more confident over the years to the point where today I deliver training for a living and am never happier than when I'm pontificating at length in front of a class full of people.
At the time, I never did thank the nice lady who helped me (or apologise to her for my surly attitude) or appreciate what an influence she had on my life.
35 years later, I found myself in an airport in Africa cheerfully trying to charm my way through customs without a valid visa so I could deliver some training. As I chatted with the exasperated official, I thought to myself, "I would never have been able to do this without that wonderful lady who taught me continuous voicing", and I vowed to try and track her down and thank her.
I only knew this lady for about 4 to 6 hours out of my entire life and yet she changed everything for the better. So proportionally, she has had the biggest influence on my life out of anyone I've ever met.
I finally managed to locate my therapist and emailed her to express my heartfelt thanks. Thankfully, she didn't recall my boorish attitude and seemed pleased that her work had yielded such great results.
It caused me to reflect upon and try to quantify the amazingly positive impact this lady had upon my life. Obviously, the people who I would say have had the most influence on my life would be my parents and my wife. If you think about it however, I only knew this lady for about 4 to 6 hours out of my entire life and yet she changed everything for the better. So proportionally, she has had the biggest influence on my life out of anyone I've ever met.
Before I was taught techniques to deal with my stammer, my future meant planning how to avoid jobs and situations which required a lot of talking. After this lady's intervention however, I (after a period of time growing my confidence) sought out opportunities for public speaking.
With this in mind, I would say that speech & language therapists are vastly underappreciated. Communication impacts our social interactions, our relationships, our careers and our abilities to pursue our dreams. Anyone helping to enable people to achieve these goals has embarked upon a noble profession indeed. It is a profession they should be proud of. Even if it involves dealing with bad tempered 11-year-olds who take 35 years to acknowledge the help they have received.
To see how you can access speech & language therapy, or to find out what other options are available for stammering, see our Get Help section.