Struggle for Acceptance

- By Dan Wong ( (An essay Dan wrote for his freshman English class - JAK)

Today is the day of the oral report. Everyone in class has already made their presentation, so I no longer have an excuse for not sharing my material. I slowly raise my hand after the teacher asks if anyone else needs to do the oral. As I scoot the chair back to stand up, my ears begin to turn red hot. My uneasiness only gets worse when I sluggishly walk down the aisle towards the awaiting podium and start to sweat on my hands and forehead. As I look up from the podium, I am startled by the forty pairs of unwavering eyes glaring at me, awaiting to be engrossed by my brilliance.

I find myself having difficulty breathing, almost as if I have forgotten how to. I wipe the sweat off my brow, grab my index cards tightly, and open my mouth to speak. But the words just will not come out as I hit a stuttering block. Those same forty pairs of eyes are gazing at me in wonderment. I avoid their scowls by looking down at my index cards, held by my excessively sweaty hands. The class is remarkably silent, waiting for me to continue. I hastily glance upwards to discover forty increasingly impatient people. Nervously, I attempt to speak again, but again I block. I make a stronger effort to try to spit the words out, only to stutter.

While many are able to relate to the distress involved in public speaking, issues faced by a person who stutters are unique. Anxiety of a stuttering block extends beyond the typical public speaking into the everyday world of phone conversations and ordering fast food. The anxiety I get when in either of the two situations is tremendous. For example, if I am preparing to place a phone call or am waiting in line to order fast food, anxiety builds as I wonder whether I will stutter. This affects my decision-making, which is what makes situations for a person who stutters different from one who does not. I am more likely to order a "number three" combination than a "double bacon cheese burger", which is very difficult to say, especially in a pressure situation. However, since I discovered that I had a speech impediment nine years ago, I have learned to accept it as a part of me.

I first realized I was different than the other students in my class during the fifth grade. While the thirty-four other students in my class could speak aloud in class without any trouble, I was not as fortunate. I noticed that sometimes when I spoke, I would suddenly get stuck on a word that I could not say. During my middle school days, I became shy because trying to hide this quirk of mine was my main concern. The childhood teasing proved to be a traumatic experience. So much so, that if I could avoid speaking aloud in class, I would. I did not want to subject myself to a class full of students laughing at me. I got very frustrated and had very low self- esteem.

I was so upset at my lack of fluency in speech that I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I remember thinking that if I was evergranted one wish, I would not wish to be the richest person in the world or to be the smartest person in the world, but rather I knew with clarity that I would wish I could speak fluently, without any stuttering problem. But no matter how much I wished, it did not come true. Instead, one thing that kept me motivated was my high grades. I was always among the top students in my class. However, even my grades could not compare to the moral support I got from my mother.

My mother supported me greatly during this difficult time. With a suggestion from my pediatrician to see a psychologist, my mom immediately called up our insurance company to ask whether I would be covered. After the company agreed that seeing a psychologist for my speech impediment was covered, my mom helped me make an appointment. Since I still did not know why I was unable to speak fluently, this experience opened a new world to me. Finally, I could talk to someone about my frustrations and problems.

In seeing the psychologist, I learned a lot about my lack of fluency. I learned that what I had was a documented disability. Before meeting my psychologist, I never knew what I had was a disability nor did I know that anyone else had this problem. However, I also found out that stuttering cannot be cured. I learned techniques that were supposed to allow me to be more articulate. Using these methods helped me be more fluent. Sometimes could go for days without stuttering once. Other times I would have a relapse and stutter quite often. Furthermore, I noticed the techniques were more effective in clinical situations, like when I met with my psychologist, than in real-world situations.

Beginning high school, I felt I could start anew with a clean slate because not many students from my middle school attended my high school. However, during the second semester of my freshman year in high school, I experienced the worst discrimination I have ever encountered, in regards to my disability. My history instructor was always visibly annoyed when I stuttered in class, while reading text or answering a question aloud. One time, she called on me to read my answer to a homework question out loud in class. I began to read my answer, but then I began to stutter. My instructor became very impatient with me and called on the another student in the class to answer the same question, even though I was still speaking. I felt very embarrassed. I knew that I was discriminated against and not given the same treatment as other students. This was a set-back for me because I believed that my stuttering impeded on my ability to succeed in school.

However, I soon realized the potential I have in being a productive individual that I will not be able to recognize unless I changed my self-defeating attitude. I forced myself to confront my disability head-on. I decided to take journalism classes in my high school to force myself to communicate with others in ways I normally would be too afraid to do. I had to conduct many interviews with fellow students, as well as school administrators and school district officials. Journalism helped me overcome my fear of speaking, and, in addition, I became more social and outgoing.

Ever since I took journalism, I have realized I do not have to hide the fact that I have a speech impediment. Contrarily, I have learned that I feel more comfortable with my audience, especially in a classroom situation if I let the cat out of the bag before I spoke. By advertising my stuttering, I no longer feel as if I am running away or trying to hide my problems, and I find that my listeners tend to be more sympathetic to my disability.

I have learned that self-acceptance has pushed me a long way in my struggle to discover who I am. No one is perfect, and everyone must realize their short-comings. But these must not get in the way of one's goals in life. One must confront these obstacles head-on, learn to accept them, and to build from your broadened understanding of yourself.