Talk To Me: A Tusk Writer Shares His Struggles With Speaking

By Adam Castro

Overcoming Speech Problems Felt Like My Ticket Into A Normal Childhood


Here I was again in my second grade teacher’s classroom, mentally preparing myself for another speech lesson, when Ms. Martha, my teacher, greeted me with a big smile, a hug and to my surprise, a fancy paper.

“Congratulations, Adam!” she said. “You’ve officially graduated from my speech class!”

The Start

Those words and that certificate were proof I had reached a substantial milestone in my academic journey.

In my early years of life, I was registered in speech class. People I spoke to often had trouble understanding my words, even though what I spoke aloud sounded fine to me.

It wasn’t just one single word — every word I said was difficult for people to comprehend.

Essentially, I had a communication problem, and it left me feeling like I was stranded on an island all by myself.

My earliest memory of this problem occurred in 1998, during recess at my preschool in San Dimas, California. On one particular day, I mustered the courage to confess my love to a girl named Shelby.

As Shelby played in the sand underneath the playground, I approached her and said, “Can I play with you?”

A clear look of bewilderment settled across her face the moment my mouth uttered those words.

Above us, the kids on the playground had also heard my attempt at conversation and decided the appropriate reaction was to pour sand on my head.

“Shelby, can you even understand what he said?” one kid said.

“What are you saying?” another teased.

Laughs filled the air.

Shelby kindly wiped the sand off my hair, but for the rest of the day I was shattered. I spent the rest of recess alone, sitting down on the sandbox curb.

That was the year I discovered I had a problem.

My Early Salvation

Fortunately, my parents were there to help me with this problem. They would often ask me to repeat words, which would lead to my own frustration that they hadn’t understood me the first time around.

My mom made it her duty to decipher what I was trying to say. With her encouragement, I was able to get a better grasp on my language skills.

During my second year of preschool, I was introduced to speech class. My teacher, irritated that I would not pay attention during my lessons, learned to bribe me with toy trains that were laid across a railroad-themed rug.

“Now make the ‘Da’ sound,” she said.

For the time being, those lessons seemed enough, as I was able to pass preschool and move onto kindergarten. Practicing those hard “R” sounds and distinct “D” noises during those lessons had paid off. At that point, I was finally able to hold a little conversation, but only if I slowed down and focused on the task.

Fitting In

By elementary school, most people understood me well enough, but I still needed improvement on specific phonetics.

The hard “R” sound still seemed to be my arch nemesis.

In speech class, I had good days and bad days. Some days, my “R” enunciation would sound perfect to Ms. Martha. Other days, not so much.

I didn’t feel like I did anything differently. The words that came out of my mouth all sounded the same.

At this point, I would have done anything to improve. Even if it meant repeating the same sentence at a slower pace for people to understand. I was determined to learn because missing regular class for speech sessions had started to become a burden on my grades.

Finished

After a normal year in kindergarten, first grade and half of second grade, I felt like I had finally hit my stride. Both my math and reading skills were improving and my grades were on the rise in all categories. And for once, I had made several friends.

One day during second grade, I was in the middle of an arts and crafts activity when my  teacher received a phone call from the school office telling me to make my way to Ms. Martha’s room.

When I arrived I was presented with a certificate of graduation, meaning I was done with speech class forever.

I had come a long way.

Along this journey I experienced frustration, loneliness and humiliation —  now I was a clear-speaking second grader, ready for whatever came my way.

On that day, I came home to proud parents.

As I grew up, I used my new skills to read the Bible and engage with my faith. That’s what I’m most proud of today.

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