I was born with apraxia, and did not find this out until many years later when my difficulty in finding employment meant I had to be reevaluated. When I was a child, the majority of society did not have an understanding of apraxia. Moreover, the public school that I went to did not have the awareness or the knowledge of how to deal with someone who has apraxia. This personal experience of living with apraxia has had a negative effect on my life, which I hope my childhood story will help raise awareness and create a better understanding of the struggles and challenges that children with apraxia have.
I was unable to speak at the age of three because I had my tongue tied, which required surgery. After I had surgery, my speech was not corrected because I had apraxia of the speech. This required many years of speech therapy. I began speech therapy at the age of five and continued this through the age of 13 when I was in middle school. During this time, I saw a speech therapist twice a week. The words I mostly struggle with involve “l” and “r.” Additionally, my speech has inconsistent sounds for vowels. My speech therapy sessions had me say these words over and over again for me to try to correct these sounds. Once I reached the age of 13, I was told that there was nothing more that could be done to correct my speech.
Having a speech disability negatively affected my learning ability to be able to properly read and write. This is the result of struggling to properly speak, which affected how I should pronounce certain words. I would often become very frustrated with my struggles of reading and writing, which was linked to my apraxia where I would give up at times and avoided reading because I struggled with it.
Not only has having apraxia affected my ability to communicate with others and read and write, it has had an impact on how others perceived me because they did not have any knowledge of apraxia. When my parents attempted to enroll me into the local public school, the administrators of the public school associated my speech disability with retardation and tried to prevent me from enrolling in the school, especially since kids with special needs have higher costs associated with them because of special accommodations. My parents had to take the local public school to court and spend thousands of dollars for me to take intelligence exams to prove that my intelligence level was not below average just for me to be allowed to be enrolled in the public school.
When I was enrolled in the public school, I was severely bullied by both administrators, teachers, and classmates for having a speech disability. People often associate speech with intelligence, and because my speech was really difficult to understand, everyone thought my intelligence was below average. My teachers in elementary and middle school would often mock me for my speech difficulties by failing to understand why I had difficulties pronouncing certain words. They also tried to make me appear to be of less intelligent to fit their preconceived notion about me. For instance, I had a first grade teacher who attempted to make me appear dumb by often in class asking me questions when I did not have my hand raised because I either did not know the answer to the question or could not properly pronounce the correct answers to the questions. When I got the answer wrong, she would tell me to “speak normal,” “were you not paying attention in class,” and “you are just making up words.” Another time I overheard this same teacher once attempting to emulate the sound of my voice with another teacher for their own amusement. I had other public school teaches who treated me different from other students, as well as mocking my voice, but to not the extent of my first grade teacher. My high school guidance councilor felt that I was of lesser intelligence because of the sound of my voice. Once in a meeting with him, he asked me what I wanted to do once I completed high school, and I told him that I wanted to become a history teacher and eventually attain a master’s degree. He told me that I was too stupid to attain a master’s degree. This statement by him motivated me to attain three different master’s degrees, which shows that children with apraxia can eventually attain college degrees.
My apraxia of the speech in my childhood has also negatively affected my ability to acquire proper social skills and make friends. I had classmates who would often say comments like that I am “retarded,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “a robot,” and other words to me because they associated the sound of my voice to someone of low intelligence. Additionally, they would often tease me every time I would say one of the words I had difficulties pronouncing. This led me to becoming more reserved at school because I was conditioned to minimize my speaking to avoid being ridiculed for my speech.
After experiencing this childhood of living with apraxia, I hope that society can become more aware of the struggles of children who have this motor speech disorder where they will not experience the same childhood I had of being constantly bullied and ridiculed for something I and others who were born with apraxia had no control over. Hopefully this increasingly more awareness would lead to society being less judgmental of those who have apraxia by treating them with respect and providing them with the proper support they need to overcome the burden of apraxia. No child should be bullied for a disability that they have no control over.
Brian Yager was born with and still has apraxia. He successfully completed one year of doctoral coursework in Education Policy and Evaluation at Florida State University. He received Master’s Degrees in History, Economics, and Business Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in both History and Economics from Bowling Green State University.