I don’t remember everything from my old home, but the memories I do have often haunt me nightly—especially those relating to my struggles with speech. Because my life is mine and private, I will only briefly explain a few key parts of my background. I come from an abusive home and the majority of the physical abuse came from my two older brothers. This is important to know to understand my story.
Think of a newborn baby, unloved and unwanted. Though I can’t remember it, I was told that I stayed in my crib nearly 100% of the time. It was my older brothers’ job to take care of me. One year old, two years old, three years old.... I can only remember parts of my life around that time. Because we never celebrated my birthday, I’m unsure of my age at the time of my memories. I didn’t learn when my birthday was until I turned twelve and that was only because the new school I attended announced students’ birthdays over the intercom at the beginning of the day. I know that around the age of three or four was when the worst of the abuse began (or at least those are my earliest memories of it).
I was forced to speak in my home, though I couldn’t speak properly. I have a stutter and a lisp and, when I do speak, you have to stain to hear me because my voice is so quiet. If I misspoke, I would be punished. If I stuttered I would be called names or punished. If my brothers heard me when I spoke, I would be punished. To make matters worse, if I cried, they would be punished, and I would suffer worse punishment if that happened.
So, think of a small three or four year old boy trying to say, “I need to go to the bathroom.” If I said it aloud, I would be punished for saying it wrong... and then I didn’t dare leave the room without permission. What could I do? Nothing. Either way, I would be punished. At ages five, six, and seven, it didn’t change.
Now, I can’t speak more than two word sentences because I struggle with keeping words in order. I can say “I’m hungry,” but if I try to say “I am hungry. Can I eat?” it will come out as “I am eat can I hungry.” I don’t know why my brain confuses words. All I know is that I say it wrong even though I wasn’t thinking it that way.
When I started school and I had to communicate with teachers and students, it didn’t take me long to figure out that writing was the best form of communication for me. Then later, when something very bad happened at home, I was sent away. I had to talk to police, social workers, and foster people. All of them were too busy to allow me the time to write everything out and read what I wrote; and speaking was never an option. At that point in my life, not only did I have speech problems, but I had a lot of fear to go with them. What would happen to me if I didn’t say what I meant to say to the police? Could I go to jail for that? I was scared of what they would do to me because my brother would beat me for it and the teachers sent me to the office for refusing to speak, so what punishment would the police give me? I know now that I wouldn't be in trouble for it, but I didn't know that then. I was so scared, and I felt so alone in this strange world.
The foster people I was sent to were worse than my family members, so I lied and said I made it all up - even though I had several broken bones - one so severe it required surgery to put my arm back together. Nevertheless, they sent me back home, and the cycle continued. Home or school, it didn’t matter where I was. I was bullied and abused because I couldn’t speak, and people were too impatient to wait for me to express myself in the only way I could: by writing. There was no hope for me. I was going to either make it or not in life. Nobody was going to save or help me. Teachers didn’t talk to me and my parents were never home. I was lost in a world that did nothing but abuse me. I was lucky if an adult even noticed me.
I don’t know if my life would have been different had I been able to speak, but what I DO know is it only took one little girl who cared enough and was patient enough to help me. I wonder why nobody else stopped and asked himself, “What’s wrong here? How can I help fix this? How can I help this kid who is clearly struggling?”
There are many kids like me and they depend on every adult to do one of two things to save their lives. One, help them! Two, show compassion. If your child, sister, wife, husband, anyone you have any sort of influence over belittles a person for their differences then you have failed as a compassionate person. Please stop them, talk to them, and TEACH them. Nobody can control another person, but (with the exception of your children), you can decide who is in your life. You may not have control over what your husband says or does, but what do you want him to teach your children? What would happen if it was your child who had the same speech problems that I do? Ask them to step into the shoes of the person they tease or belittle for one day. Every person is teachable if they have even the smallest kindness shown to them.
I have many speech problems. Some of them have been identified and some have yet to be identified. It’s very difficult not to be able to speak. If I’m hurt, scared, or upset, I have to depend on my writing and someone being willing to read what I write.
Over the past few days, I have seen the “Don’t Read This” challenge all over Facebook. It challenges people to go a whole day without reading anything in hopes you will understand how an illiterate person feels. I have a few challenges for you to try too. In truth, the only people who will try these challenges are people who truly want to know what people like me go through every day. You can say you understand, but trust me, you don’t understand the feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, and the feeling of being broken.
My challenges for you are to do two things on different days. On the first day, spend the day without speaking. You can make noises, but no words. That means no speaking to teachers, students, bosses, grocery clerks, police officers, NO ONE. Your only forms of communication are writing, typing, and body language. If you decided to take this challenge remember to have paper and pen with you. When I had to talk to the police, I was trying to talk about something extremely upsetting and I had to try to explain by writing. The second challenge is, the next time you are angry or upset, and I mean extremely upset or mad, express that only in writing. No words, no yelling, only writing and body language. After doing either or both of these challenges, you will understand on a small scale what I deal with every day.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have trouble using their voices, and between 6 and 8 million people in the United States have some form of language impairment. It is also estimated by the NIDCD that more than 3 million Americans stutter, and more than 15 million individuals in the world stutter, most of whom began stuttering at a very early age. By the first grade, roughly five percent of children have noticeable speech disorders and the majority of these speech disorders have no known cause. To read more on this go to the NIDCD website. Thanks for reading this.~Timmy
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