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by Michael Retzinger

(Mike, an SLP in Wisconsin, writes to Rachel Szelfi in response to her article in the May issue of Reaching Out about a speech she gave on Martin Luther King Jr. Day about her dream to be able to tell the world about the respect owed to people who stutter)

Your speech was excellent. Educating others is the key and you are doing a wonderful service for all of us who stutter by sharing your speech dream with your language arts class. As an adult who stutters, I am grateful to you for educating others. You are a real trooper.

As a child who stutters, I also had a dream. My dream was personal, too. My dream affected me, I did not know it affected anyone else. My dream was about learning how to live with a speech problem called stuttering. I did not believe I could live with it. I have been stuttering since I was four years old. My dream was that I would not be afraid to stutter, that I would not be afraid to talk.

I dreamed people would be more understanding of me even if I stuttered. I dreamed people would listen to me as I was and take me for what I am. I dreamed that I would be able to be OK how I was. It was a dream I hoped for. I dreamed this for a long time.

Yet even though I dreamed, I let stuttering make me lonely and sad when I was a child. I let people finish my sentences for me. People did not have patience. I was the object of ridicule and physical beatings from others because I stuttered. I now know that people then, just as now, really don ‘t know what it is like being a child who stutters. People judged me by how I sounded.

Because I stuttered, because I was afraid to talk, I began to grow silent. How I said things became more important than what I had to say. I learned early on that it was easy to stop stuttering: just don’t talk. And as I learned this, I became more lonely and sad. And I wondered about my dream.

As a young adult, I learned to go after my dreams from a really good speech and language pathologist. I learned that if you are a person who stutters, you will always stutter. BUT I could also talk a lot more. I learned (although this was very difficult to accept) that it is OK to stutter and that if I wanted, I could overcome my fear of stuttering and my fear of talking. As I did this, I found out I talked more.

What I am sharing was the hardest thing to learn: that all I had to do was say what I wanted to say, even if I stuttered. I learned to believe in dreams. I learned how to release my talking even if I stutter. I learned not to be afraid, and in time, my dream came true. I talk a whole lot more than I stutter today.

I still dream: I dream that people will learn more about stuttering and have compassion for people who stutter, especially children who stutter. I dream that children who stutter will be treated with dignity and respect. I dream that children who stutter will be spared the agony of learning to be afraid. I dream that professionals and parents of children who stutter will care more about what a child is saying and not about how the child who stutters is saying it. And I dream that all children who stutter will dream the dream … because I know dreams can come true.

Thanks for sharing your dream, Rachel. I hope you don’t mind me sharing mine.

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