Written by Esfir Tkach
for Prof. Jeffrey Gandell
Why me? Why wasn’t I good enough? Guilt overwhelmed me. The fear of any type of communication made my body tremble and sweat. The fear of laughter or rejection made my anxiety ever more noticeable. I found myself stuck in an eternal loophole. The same exact routine day after day. School was never something I looked forward to. At 8 am, I would come to school, and would sit down at the back of the class. I don’t think the teacher actually knew my name, but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t want to be seen or heard. At noon, we had lunch. Once again, I had my specific corner, and I ate my lunch quietly. I would not talk for the whole day, or at least I would not speak to the outside world. This routine kept going until mid-November, when suddenly, my world was turned upside down, in a totally positive way. A young woman came knocking on the classroom door. Suddenly, I heard my name. It was odd, because the teachers would often not even bother speaking to me. When I first heard my name, I didn’t think much about it. But then I heard it a second time, and decided to lift my little head up. There she was, standing and smiling. She was beautiful. She had the brightest brown eyes I had ever seen. They were bright as diamonds. Her smile was electrifying. I could feel myself gravitating towards her.
I stood up, and followed her into a small room. The walls were all white, with an abundance of toys. It had a big window, facing the streets. I could see the leaves falling to the ground. The end of fall reminded me of death. Inside I felt empty, numb to the pain my speech impediment brought me. I gazed up. I read the label on the door, and it said – Maria: Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). A Speech Language Pathologists identifies and treats any kind of speech disorder. Additionally, Speech Language Pathologists advocate for the prevention of speech impediments (Speech-Language & Audiology Canada 1). Oh great! I thought, another unwanted experiment on my speech. She sat me down, and said, “Look Esfir, I will do my best, but this – what we will go through – will not be easy, but it will be worth it.” For once in my life, I believed her. I just remember my eyes filling up with tears. I tried to contain myself, to not show my emotions. I was tired of being alone and feeling hopeless. Looking back, she gave me some sort of hope because inside me, I had none left. She had this sparkle in her eyes, and I smiled, wiping my tears away. For the first time in my life, I was optimistic for the future.
Over the next months and years, my speech blossomed like a flower. Maria was the sun to my flower; she was the source of all of my happiness. Not only was I doing better in school, but I was an all around different person. I learned French in six months. I finally had confidence in myself. I was an overall happier child. I was officially the new Esfir. To this day, I will never forget Maria. She not only gave me hope, but she was a shoulder to lean on. She was my best friend. I confided in her with all of my difficulties. Because she believed in me, I felt the power to better myself. I pushed myself, until I understood that my stuttering did not define me. I did not want to be defined by my difficulties anymore, but by my strengths.
Overcoming stuttering or any other speech impediment is nerve-wracking and emotionally draining. It is like climbing Mount Everest. The elevation is 9,000 meters, but once you get to the top, you’ve conquered it. At the summit you’ve proved how strong of an individual you are. However, how can you overcome a speech disorder if you do not have the necessary tools? Language is an important tool to have. But what exactly is language? Communication?
Rania, my brother’s Speech Language Pathologist describes language as “a tool to communicate with yourself and others. If so, you will be happier and successful. It is a bigger picture of communication. Language is an everyday tool. Communication is like a deposit box full of valuables. However, sometimes an individual doesn’t have the necessary keys to open it. They try and try, but nothing happens. They become frustrated, and eventually give up. But wait! This all can be fixed. You can go to a specialist, in this case a Speech Language Pathologist, and they’ll make you the perfect key. As soon as you acquire the specific knowledge from the specialist, you have the knowledge to use the key properly. Speech Language Pathologists are the keys to our expression and happiness: they provide the permanent key for the box that is communication. communication is the broader image. It is used for all aspects of life. Can you imagine a world without communication? It would be like having permanent tape on our mouths. Not being able to express yourself is the most tragic thing in the world, yet expression is taken for granted everyday. Communication takes place inside our brains without us knowing it, like a Ping-Pong game. One neuron electrifies and sends a message to another, and so on, until it reaches the organs needed to speak. That is when the magic happens. We are finally able to express ourselves! However, what happens if your box never finds the right key?
There are many consequences of a speech impediment that are left untreated. An article by Julie Farnsworth explains the effects of stuttering on an individual. There are many traits that are common with people who stutter.
The first identifiable trait is that individuals with speech impediments are not as outgoing as those without (Farnsworth 1). However, this should not come as a shock to most of you. Children that stutter are afraid to socialize because of the risk of getting ridiculed. Fear can be a silent but powerful shackle that holds people back from making healthy changes in their lives. The only logical way to escape socialization is to completely shut down. Nungesser, a researcher who wrote “Preschool Teachers’ Perception and Reaction to Challenging Classroom Behaviour: Implications for Speech Language Pathologist,” found that children with language disabilities spent 42% of their time engaged in withdrawal-like behaviours. These types of behaviour are not rare among developing children. Nungesser found that 17% of the developing children without speech disorders would spend time alone (140). Loneliness is a common part of childhood behaviour; however, spending too much time alone may bring future consequences such as anxiety and depression.
The second identifiable trait would be expressing anger in an unhealthy way (Farnsworth 1). In my case, I would often arrive home, and just scream at my parents after a long day of bottling up my emotions. I was exhausted with being misunderstood; thus the only way I could express myself was through anger. Nungesser further explained that 59.1% of children with language disabilities have been violent towards authoritative figures (140). Labelling a child as having behavioural issues can also take a toll on their behaviour. Therefore, differentiating speech disorders and behavioural disorders is crucial for treatment.
The final identifiable trait would be that people who stutter often feel guilty. I often felt guilty because I thought that if I tried harder I could do better. I took so much time expressing myself; sometimes it took up to five minutes to say one small sentence when talking to my teachers or parents. When my teachers would ask, “When will you be done with your sentence?” I would often give up due to the fact that I was taking so much time. I felt that sometimes my speech was out of control. I could not control what my mouth did and had no control whether it would be fluent or not (Farnsworth 1).
Searching for that specific key to mastering communication may seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. I often thought it would be easier to win the lottery than find the solution to my speech impediment. As new immigrants, we did not have the money to buy groceries, let alone pay $120 for an hourly session. When I saw my mother getting waitlisted every single time, I would wonder why it was impossible to find a Speech Language Pathologist. I was not only overwhelmed by my stuttering, but also by the fact that there was an apparent lack of Speech Language Pathologists in the Montreal area. How can the Quebec government underfund these essential clinicians who are so important for a child’s development? This is a somewhat tricky question, because there is no exact answer. The main perceived barrier for Speech Language Pathologists is that there is not enough awareness of the career. Ask anybody around you what a Speech Language Pathologist is. I guarantee that 9/10 people will say, “I have no idea!” Funnily enough, most of my college teachers don’t even know the profession. If a college educator has no idea about who a Speech Language Pathologist is, how could the general population know? Additionally, one of the main concerns for many students is that there are limited resources for maintaining the program. Because of the specific supervisor-student ratio in the program, the lack of supervisors leads to an immediate shortage of students. Additionally, many students disagree with the fact that there is no combined program in the Speech Language Pathology field, meaning that students must do their bachelors and masters separately, which can be financially difficult and time-consuming (Speech- Language & Audiology 1).
However, the biggest problem is funding. There is limited funding, thus limited academic opportunities for scholarships, and so on. Funding never crossed my mind until on one chilly winter day, while drinking my maple syrup latte, I decided to get a head start and call a McGill advisor in the Speech Pathology department. I thought I knew everything about the Speech Language Pathology program, such as the prerequisites, the minimum grades, the minimum volunteering hours that one needs in order to be considered, and so on. However, one important thing escaped my mind. Admission rates! Initially, I thought the number would be around the mid 20%’s. However, I was very, very wrong. It was a fifth of it: specifically, four percent. Out of 500 applicants, they take 20 people (McGill 1). When I heard the shocking number, I almost dropped my phone in my hot steamy latte. Many thoughts began racing through my mind … How will I ever get in? Will I be good enough? Frankly, one has better chances of becoming a paediatrician. Out of the 20 people who will get accepted, half will graduate, meaning that there will only be about 10 new Speech Language Pathologists getting new employment yearly. In no way, shape, or form do I advocate lowering admission standards; however, if more funding would be given to the University in question, more places would become available for students, which might, in a way, motivate students to apply.
I am more motivated than ever been to become a Speech Language Pathologist. With a growing number of speech impediments worldwide, Speech Language Pathologists are needed. Statistics suggest that about 1% of the population is affected by stuttering, meaning about 80,000 in Quebec (The Stuttering Foundation 1 ). I just simply cannot get over that admission rate – 4%. I cannot imagine myself being in the position that I am today without the help of Maria. I cannot imagine a child going through the pain and anger that I went through. How could we take away the option of helping a child in need of treatment? I am not sure if the admission numbers will ever go up, but I do believe that every child needs to get a fair chance in life, whether or not they have a speech impediment. I can only hope that one day Speech Language Pathologists become as common as paediatricians.
“FAQ.” Stuttering Foundation: A Nonprofit Organization Helping Those Who Stutter. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.stutteringhelp.org/faq
Farnsworth, J. “Effects of Stuttering on the Individual.” Effects on Individual. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://www.d.umn.edu/~cspiller/stutteringpage/effects.htm>.>.
Nungesser, N. R. “Preschool Teachers’ Perceptions and Reactions to Challenging Classroom Behavior: Implications for Speech-Language Pathologists.” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 36.2 (2005): 139-51. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
“Professional Training in Speech-Language Pathology (M.Sc.A.).” Professional Training in Speech-Language Pathology (M.Sc.A.). Web. 29 Apr. 2015. <https://www.mcgill.ca/scsd/programs/slp>>.
“University Recommendations.” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/slp/Universityrecommendations.pdf>..
“What Do Speech-Language Pathologists Do?” Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. 31 May 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <http://sac-oac.ca/public/what-do-speech- language-pathologists-do>>.
About the Author: Hi! My name is Esfir Tkach, sometimes referred as Yanovna. I am currently 19 and a Dawson graduate. I was in the Psychology profile program and absolutely adored my time here. Now I am a McGill student in both psychology and linguistics. I myself suffered from stuttering issues and constantly thought my disability would define me! However, I learned that my speech language pathologist was my key to success. I won the excellence award in high school and for every semester at Dawson, I was an honour student. I finished with the first class honours student award at Dawson. Thus, fear not those of you who might think that they are not good enough. You definitely are! This is why my dreams are to become a speech language pathologist and open a clinic for those who cannot afford those ridiculous prices at the private clinics. I hope you enjoy my article!