A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

February 7, 2020
Mark O’Malia, M.S., CCC-SLP
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We are truly grateful to work with our clients in making such awe-inspiring changes to their experience with stuttering.A recent speech given by our client Thair at the end of his immersion program shows the depth to which stuttering can impact a person's entire self-concept, but also reinforces that it is never too late to make a change towards self-awareness, authenticity, and freedom.Dear 16-year old self, See. It happened again didn’t it. This is what happens when you don’t listen to me. I hope you learn from this mistake and never again choose to disobey me. After all, I was only trying to protect you from this outcome. Don’t you dare entertain the idea that they’re laughing with you. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that their guffaw comes at your expense. Look! Even the teacher chuckled at your lengthy repetition, opting to join the class in your collective ridicule. In the future, please refrain from raising your hand to participate, for this is how it always ends. You’re a smart kid. All the teachers see it in your work. You don’t have to try and prove anything else at the risk of putting your emotions up for ambush. Who is this bravado for? Are you doing it to show ME your competence? HA! Let’s not delude ourselves here. After all, it’s me you’re conversing with and I know you better than anyone else. Do yourself and everyone else a favor next time. Don’t subject the room to such unwelcomed awkwardness. How selfish you must be to impose this wildly uncomfortable sensation on all those in attendance? You know the rules that govern us. One word answers, maybe two words if we’re feeling adventurous that particular day, but that’s our limit, and it always will be. Do you remember what your mother said to your father that one night after-school? “Glen, look how you cursed my child with your stammering!” Remember how distraught she looked to see you struggle on a routine response. Remember how agonizing that was to hear. Again, I never remind you of this to hurt you, only to reiterate that it’s not just me that feels this way. Unless you can be truly fluent, the rest of the world prefers it if you would just shut up. Listen, we’re on this journey together, and I serve to shield you from the harsh, unforgiving nature of this world. Please just work with me, for your silence is already an adequate gift to this world.Sincerely, Your Gremlin[caption id="attachment_19003" align="alignright" width="391"]

January 2020 Immersion Group[/caption]I must admit that my gremlin controlled how I interacted with the world, by constantly erecting boundaries that restricted me to my comfort zone. I am sure those of us who share this stuttering identity can resonate with the gremlin’s officious nature, and its tendency to keep our thoughts locked away, for fear of the world becoming aware of our disfluency. However, with each concession we make to appease our naysayer, we relinquish control of our voice to something that betrays our confidence, and craves our silence.My time at the American Institute for Stuttering (AIS) provided me with the self-awareness to begin to combat this defeatist quality, through programs that gradually encouraged me to reclaim authority over my speech. I was allowed to practice voluntary stuttering within the safety of the company, and our team even ventured out into the hustle and bustle of New York, to showcase our newfound skills to strangers. Through each of these adventures, I became more comfortable in my ability to speak up, and my capacity to say exactly what I wanted to say. I recognized that all the negative outcomes that my psyche had devised over the years, did not hold true in reality. Humans are much nicer than I give them credit for, and the people listening to me respond to how I respond to my stuttering, not the stuttering itself. Above all else, I have learnt that my speech impediment does not inhibit my route to success. Any barriers I attribute to my stutter are purely imaginary, for the world cares only about the quality of my words, not the speed at which they are expelled. Ultimately, I know that my training does not end here. My journey continues with me choosing to voluntarily stutter while maintaining eye-contact, opting to put myself in positions that evoke discomfort, and being committed to saying exactly what I want to say without substituting words.To my gremlin, I have appreciated your help over these past years for I know that your goal has always been to protect my emotions. However, I think this is where we begin to part ways. I will not combust if I stutter while speaking, and I won’t implode when someone winces after hearing me repeat a syllable or prolong a vowel. I will not lose myself along this journey gremlin, the only thing I risk losing, is You. --Thair Brown is a senior at Boston College majoring in Economics and minoring in African and African Diaspora Studies. Fun fact: He is originally from Jamaica.--The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.

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