Having a speech impairment can bring a lot of challenges to cope with, including low self-esteem, acting out, struggling with friendships and being a target of bullying. These issues are often interwoven for those with a speech impairment. Finding the right support, such as a speech therapist, can assist you with these difficult issues.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. While any student can experience the emotional damage of being bullied, those with speech disorders are five times more likely to be victims of bullying. Their disability shows up constantly, whether it be ordering food for lunch, doing group work in class or just having conversations with peers. This makes students with speech impairments easy targets for bullies, which can lead to depression, lower grades and feeling like they don’t belong. It is truly heartbreaking to see this happen to someone. If it is happening to you, be sure to tell an adult such as your speech therapist.

Creating and maintaining traditional friendships can also be a struggle for those with a speech impairment. While much progress has been made since inclusion has become the norm in our society, unfortunately, this is still an issue. As a result, many with a speech impairment will choose to be friends with their peers who have similar challenges. While this has its positives, it may also limit their opportunities to practice speaking clearly and hear correct speech outside of speech therapy. This can lead to multiple misunderstandings in the classroom and social settings, because they may think their speech is fine but it isn’t, which gives them a false sense of security.

It is also not unusual for a child with a speech impairment to have other social disabilities like autism, which can make getting and keeping friends difficult. In order to help foster a more positive climate, some schools have a presentation at the beginning of the year showing that everyone has their own differences, and how important it is to accept those with disabilities. Even after a program like this, not everyone may understand you and include you, but hopefully it will help you create inclusive friendships.

Some people with speech impairments may misbehave, especially if the impairment is moderate to severe. If their speech is difficult to understand, they may act out because they have no other way to communicate what they need. A speech therapist can provide invaluable support. Not only can they help you improve your clarity of speech, they can also support you emotionally and boost your self-esteem, thus reducing the need to act out. When I was extremely edgy, my speech therapist never took my negative feelings personally, which enabled us to continue to work together in a positive manner.

I experienced social challenges when my friends saw me practicing oral motor skills with my speech therapist and laughed at me. My therapist was having me hold a small mirror while I was practicing pronouncing words. This was so I could learn how to create the right pronunciation by seeing my errors. Receiving this type of therapy wasn’t typical for an eighth grader. After my friends made fun of me, I became angry and my frustrations started to show. I give my speech therapist so much credit for supporting me during this very difficult time in my life.

Having a speech impairment can bring many challenges, but with the support of a speech therapist and others, the majority of people with this disorder learn how to be successful. Maintaining a never give up attitude along with understanding the treatment plan your speech therapist has for you is the first step towards reaching academic, personal and social success. If you’re being bullied, let an adult know — bullying is considered a form of violence and should never be tolerated. It’s a long journey, but in my experience, you will reach the point where you say, “I am so proud of myself for never giving up.”

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Author: Eileen Herzog