Finding Confidence

At first thought of a disability or a disorder, what do you think of?

Personally, like most, it's natural to associate it with a deformity, a fault, and generally a weakness. Right?

After the past National Conference with CASANA along with the popularity of this blog, others asked my parents and myself how I grew my confidence, especially with a speech disorder like Apraxia.

Note that this isn't my favorite topic, my confidence is just a part of who I am as a person and frankly, it's just life. To me it's not really "special," it just simply is present.

However, I can recognize the fact that my confidence is something that is hard to come by on an Apraxia Journey. When you can't speak until 7, it sets you on a certain, challenging path. Then, to make things better, speaking for the rest of your life with an accent you can't seem to get rid of...It's understandable to be shy, reserved, and specifically intimidated about public speaking and social interactions. It's understandable to have lower self-confidence especially when interacting with others. 

However, I am not shy and I certainly do not have low self-confidence-yet I am the one you would expect to. 

My personal opinion on growing a child's confidence is to develop their characters and strengths, not only focus on their natural weakness, their speech. 

My confidence in myself and even my impaired speech is a result of years of confidence-building opportunities. That's what they are - opportunities. My parents did everything they could to give me these opportunities to grow into a confident, young woman-Not only a girl with a speech disorder. 

Despite my slow physical coordination and poor communication skills, I took every single parks and recreation class you could think of. More importantly though, they started a Girl Scout Troop with my Godmother where I would spend time with young girls my age and be in a setting where they could easily supervise, make sure I wasn't excessively bullied of course.

This Girl Scout Troop  gave me friends on the playground at school and a core group of defenders against the lurking bullies. More importantly though, Girl Scouts gave me an opportunity to grow as a smart, engaged woman. 

See Girl Scouts provides lifelong learning opportunities. For me, my favorite part of Girl Scouts was leading and organizing events for other kids. By the time I was in 7th grade and 65% intelligible, I loved standing in front of 100+ people while leading them in songs or instructions for a game. Did I articulate everything perfectly? Not at all, but between the words I could pronounce, my energy, and my humor-my points were always made. I could even recognize how to motivate the shy ones to get involved. I would step off the front stage, while others in my troop lead the group, and I'd find the shyest girl in the crowd, kneel in front of her, and ask her to sing just with me. 

These Girl Scout engagements, especially public speaking at such a young age, taught me a very important lesson- If I act confident and demand respect, people will respect me. 

When one speaks publicly, the only support they have on that stage is themselves, their thoughts, and their confidence. Sure, in the crowd, there may be people that love and support you-but they can't save you from a bad speech. 

More importantly though, I learned that when you are nervous-don't let it show. The audience sees your nerves, your shakiness, your constant "Ums." It's hard to hide things from the audience, but if you can hide your fear then you appear more confident and strong. 

This same philosophy with public speaking led into my overall character. If I could minimize my weakness, my Apraxia, and make it into but a smaller quality of my overall being, then perhaps others would respect my greater, stronger qualities. For example, if I got straight-A's in school, then others would not see me as "dumb" for speaking the way I do. If I were competitive in swimming, then others would not see me as the clumsy one, perhaps they'd see me as athletic.

If I developed my strengths, I could overshadow whatever weakness or fault I had. 

That's exactly what I did. My parents gave me the opportunity to develop these strengths in Scouts especially, but I ultimately decided and acted upon the hope of overshadowing my greatest weakness with any potential strength I felt was valuable. 

Now, with this quest to overshadow my weakness-it's not easy. It was a personal decision I made at a young age that relied on self-confidence, perseverance, and frankly proving everyone around me [my parents included] that I could do anything. Heck, it even consisted of proving to myself that I could do anything. In order to develop myself as a person, I grew academically, athletically, and even my extra-curriculars outside of speech therapy. 

I ultimately decided to give up speech therapy at the age of 16 and largely against my parent's wishes, they respected my decision but did not necessarily agree with it. I did this as perhaps the final challenge to commit myself to the person I wanted to be-I wanted to be an intellect, a swimmer, a volunteer for causes. I realized at the age of 16 I would rather have all these things and a funny accent,  than to have perfect speech and not be the person I wanted to be. 

I succeeded in this regard, at least I think so. However, in doing so, I opened up a new can of worms. In demanding I be treated and respected as any other woman, I lost my easiest defense-I could not use my speech nor my clumsiness as an excuse for anything. There was no safety net nor did I want it. I would rather fail miserably at a presentation, even in Spanish, than use my speech as an excuse-perhaps that's my pride, but I cannot stand it. 

There were times where I needed to believe in myself and stand up for myself, funny accent and all. Sometimes it consists of joking about myself and owning my speech. I recall in college, some jerk commented on how it's hard to take me seriously when I talk like "that." To which, I could have easily gotten the Professor involved, threw a fit, and tell this guy my life story-but that would not place me on equal ground with him. I'd be openly admitting something is wrong with how I talk and I would never do that.

Instead, I hysterically laughed at his comment and joked how he must think Stephen Hawking is an idiot then, especially given how he "talks." It's amazing when you compare yourself to a genius that makes others silent. 

None of it was easy, but at the end of the day the only one who will do this for me, be my own best advocate, and give me confidence is frankly myself.

Perhaps that's what I learned in all of this-confidence is grown from within. It's grown with every opportunity given to a child to become the adult they wish to be. This requires help from Speech Pathologists, Teachers, and Family Members to provide these opportunities for the child to grow. That's what is so vital in all of this, confidence doesn't just 'appear.' It's grown from every opportunity a person receives and acts upon no matter what disorder or disability may hold them back.  

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."-Eleanor Roosevelt.