Speech is one of many ways we communicate. Communication can also be done through the written word, body language, tone of voice, or appearance. We seem to draw clues about the interworking of people using all forms of communication. It is simply the sharing or exchanging of information, news, or ideas. We may also use pictures to communicate thoughts, feelings, or emotions. When someone has trouble with any form by which we communicate, it can cause challenges. Cerebral palsy has inhibited my ability to speak. My speech can often be slurred and is slower in pace because of CP. Being uncomfortable or experiencing heightened emotion can make speaking more difficult at times. Throughout life speaking has caused insecurity. My speech is one of the most obvious ways for a stranger to identify brain damage. One of the most common questions in my life has been, “why do you talk that way?” The insecurity around my speaking style has been allowed to close doors. It has me thinking twice before opening my mouth in most any situation, as fear of judgement can be powerful.
The inquisitions over why my speech is weird seem to occur less with age. When it does happen today, they seem to be less startling. The most recent place was during a football practice. As my time working with these kids began, I wondered when the first questions would begin. If there would be a group to blatantly ask, my thought would be children. They usually aren’t known for pulling punches when curiosity strikes. We worked through the first few practices and no inquiries were made. My thought would be something about the way I walked or spoke was coming. It finally came during our second week of practice. One of our players looked up at me with curious eyes. He asked, “why do you talk like that?” Anticipating a question of this nature at some point, my calm answer was because I have a disability called cerebral palsy.
During my past, questions like these could have left me defensive. This time the question didn’t result in defensiveness. The question seemed to be asked with such sincerity. It crossed my mind he probably didn’t understand what cerebral palsy was. But, the answer satisfied our young football player. The answer could be taken back to his parents and with a quick google search they could find more information. Interestingly, he was the only player we had to ask me a question about my disability. The topic didn’t come up again during the remainder of our year. Who knows if other kids heard the question asked and word traveled through the team, or he was just the only player to ask. The situation caused me to think about him differently. It seemed to require courage to ask a question like that, and I appreciated the moxie leading him to ask. That humble curiosity will surly serve him well moving forward. It was a cool moment early in our year.
Questions about my speech pattern haven’t always been asked out of kindness. In some instances, it’s been used to make fun or bully. There seem to be assumptions made when speech is difficult for someone. The first thought might be guessing someone is intoxicated. People have made assumptions about being drunk. When those thoughts are inaccurate they can be hurtful. Another might be my intellectual level is compromised. If there are challenges speaking maybe I’m not intelligent. Questioning intellectual ability might be the most difficult assumption to handle. The most likely place it has occurred during life is talking on the phone. Having someone purely hear my voice on the phone can cause their mind to wonder in many different directions. Using the phone with those who don’t know me well has often brought fear. It can be challenging to remain patience with an anticipation of possible judgment. However, we must keep trying, hoping for patience and understanding.
If the option where given to remove one aspect of my cerebral palsy, it would be the impact on my speech. Having trouble moving a thought from the brain into speech can be frustrating for me. It can cause me to stumble over words or lose track of what I’m attempting to say. My effort to speed up my speech pattern only exacerbates these issues. Someone close to me once observed my brain is moving so much faster than the rest of my body. One reason speaking and writing could be challenging tasks. I often need to remind myself to just slow down. The working out to improve strength and balance in other muscles of my body, doesn’t seem to directly translate into better speech. But, in recent years we have found treatment to improve my speech pattern.
The first appointment with a chiropractor was uncomfortable. There wasn’t any way to know what to expect. One warning was to stay away from manual neck adjustments. With high blood pressure through the family, there was a small chance something could go wrong. The adjustment was going to be a new experience, so adding any stress seemed pointless. It was easy enough for Dana, who used a manual thumper to adjust my neck. He places the end of this tool on the spot he wants to move. Then pushes on a lever for the adjusting to take place. The process felt like the bones are being hammered back into place. It felt strange the first few times. Making me wonder if anything was truly happening because of the gentle nature. Time told me, the neck adjustment was helping in profound ways.
It took time to notice the chiropractic adjustments on my body. After over 20 years of nothing being done to truly ease muscular pain, getting over the shock of being adjusted took time. Within a few months my body was becoming accustom to the chiropractor. Little differences in movement became noticeable. One of those distinctions was my speech. The neck adjustments were making my speaking clearer. It had also become easier to physically talk. There seemed to be less saliva in my mouth. Before the adjustments began it wasn’t apparent that I was fighting through excess saliva trying to speak. Even when the speaking had improved, the absence of saliva didn’t cross my mind. A few months after we started working together I brought the hypothesis up to Dana. He walked me over to a skeletal diagram in his office, showing and explaining what he was adjusting in my neck, to lessen the amount of saliva and improve speech. My speaking is still slurred, but thanks to the help of a chiropractor it has been improving.
Chiropractic adjustments can’t take away cerebral palsy. My speech will probably always be effected. The muscles in my neck and mouth simply don’t function as they should. So, the questions of curiosity will continue. Questions of judgment still get asked and assumptions around intellect arise. It’s challenging to handle at times. However, when the question comes from a child’s curiosity, something inside smiles. They seem to genuinely want to understand what is different. Answering them honestly seems to only help them learn. Maybe they look up cerebral palsy, tell their friends about it, and decide at a young age disabilities aren’t a big deal. Who knows how much a simple question and simple answer can help change opinions. It could reach beyond that simple conversation.