Stammering can't stop me
13th June 2019
Speech & language therapy student Angelica Bernabe, on having the determination to achieve what you want.
I have stammered all my life. When I was at school I remember having difficulties when I tried to talk in class and, of course, I had to deal with some 'jokes' by my classmates. So, my experience as a person who stammers made me decide that I had to do something about it.
Everything started very innocently. When I was 9 years old, I used to say to my mother that in the future, I’d work in research and that someday I would discover 'the cure for stammering'. Then, when I was 15 I realised that I wanted to be a speech therapist.
I’m from Peru, in South America, and, unfortunately in my country there aren’t any undergraduate programmes in speech and language pathology. This means that in order to become a speech therapist, it’s necessary to study psychology first (or another related subject) and then study for a Master’s degree in Communicative Science and Disorders.
Studying psychology when finishing school wasn’t a bad option for me. I had met different kinds of psychologists when I was a child, trying to find one who could help me to manage my stammering, so I became interested in that profession.
How could I teach them something that I couldn’t do myself? And how could I talk with parents about their children?
After that I started university and fortunately, things changed. I still had to deal with some questions about why I talked the way I did, and for the first couple of years, I wasn’t able to participate orally in class. Compared to school, though, it was an improvement: I made more friends, the 'jokes' stopped, and I was studying something that I really enjoyed.
I then needed to look for a job. I have always been interested in developmental disorders, so I started to work with children with autism when I was still at university, under the supervision of professionals. I worked 5 days a week and I really loved it, although talking with supervisors, parents and even children was really challenging.
Before that, I worked as a translator, teaching psychology courses to first-year students, and did some part-time jobs, but none of them had been as demanding as working with children with autism and their families.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned about my stammering is to look at things in a positive way in difficult times. I mention this because on several occasions I’ve heard people who stammer say it is 'easier' to talk with children. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true for me.
I experienced lots of blocks, repetitions, prolongations and secondary behaviours when I tried to talk with the children and their parents. Difficulty in establishing eye contact is one of the characteristics of autism and, even if the kids couldn’t look me in the eye when I talked to them, being fluent was really complicated.
One of my responsibilities was to practise saying words with them. However, how could I teach them something that I couldn’t do myself? And how could I talk with parents about their children? This proved hard, especially when I wasn’t able to say what I wanted - I used to change the words to avoid stammering. Those were some of the questions I had on my mind. As you can imagine, it was frustrating. Really frustrating.
So, basically I realised that I had two options: stop working with children and do something else, or keep trying and do my best. I knew that I wanted to be a good psychologist and in the future I want to be a good speech therapist. That’s why I chose the second one.
Stammering can’t stop us. It’s not easy, for sure, but we can do it.
Practice and patience were my best friends. I looked for some help and also had to work on my thoughts and feelings. That’s worked for me. I had to be positive and face that difficulty in the best possible way. I learned that if I have a goal, I need to work for it. I can be a great professional. Of course, I can. I’ll finish my undergraduate programme at the beginning of next year. I’m still working but now I’m involved with people interested in stammering, so I’m so happy about it. I’m sure that I’m going to encounter more work challenges because I’m young, but it’s fine. I’ve taken the first step and I’m sure about the things I want for me.
I really believe that anyone can achieve their goals if they work for them. Stammering can’t stop me. Stammering can’t stop us. It’s not easy, for sure, but we can do it. Remember that you are not alone. And I’m telling you this from the other side of the world!