Speech Therapy: When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

26820862_s editedA dashing speech therapist broke my heart. No, it wasn’t a torrid romance ending in tragedy but his sage words of advice: conversational speech is the last dam to break. Worse still, the coveted prize we were chasing was “communication” not “perfection.”

I’m a self-admitted practicing perfectionist. “Good enough” is never good enough when my life’s work is a perpetual pursuit of Eden. I aim to scale mountains and then chastise myself for the slightest blunder. So, surprise, surprise, I embarked on speech therapy with abundant determination to nail that bull’s-eye. In my estimation, I’d practice, practice, practice until my speech issued perfect, perfect perfect. While I might not scale tall buildings in a single bound, I’d surely conquer them with a rigorous daily regimen. Then reality hit. Those darn “Ks” and “Gs” continued to pose a battle, median “Ds” and “Ts” relentlessly evaded me…and shall we discuss my lip sounds? Further, if I reduced my life to working on my speech when would I actually use it? I needed to modify the recipe.

Most people coast through sentences blissfully unaware of the verbal gymnastics they perform with every word. The tongue effortlessly careens from venue to venue in fluid motion while the lips execute deceptively simple maneuvers. The veritable clockwork programmed by our brains and slickly engineered by our orofacial muscles enables us to focus on the dynamics of conversation rather than the specifics of location. As if on autopilot, we register our speed, then sit back and relax as the flight conveniently navigates itself.

Until I began speech therapy, I pounded out my speech in appalled ignorance of the mechanisms of my physiological inefficiencies. I’d no idea of the muscular precision required to orchestrate individual sounds and master conversational flow. Further, little did I know co-articulation demands we pronounce our sounds in units – in other words, our forward-thinking brains work a step ahead of us – granting undue influence to the banes of my existence. Certain sounds manageable in isolation “malform” when coupled with anticipated sounds looming in my future.

Focusing on my wealth of articulatory challenges simultaneously – a feat of multi-tasking – poses overwhelming, particularly if I seek to partake in productive listening. Adjusting my lofty aspirations, I slow the party down and divert due attention to the dynamics of the discussion. After all, the turtle bested the hare with a slow and steady pace.

20 responses to “Speech Therapy: When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

  1. I know how you feel, watching people complete their tasks (speech in your case, walking in mine) almost mindlessly. If I am jealous of anything or anyone, it is those who can walk while talking on the phone, or chewing gum, or just walking in general without even thinking about the fact that they are walking. I miss, with every cell in my body, being able to walk mindlessly. Godspeed in your journey with speach therapy. I will be doing gait training physical therapy soon in efforts to retrain my gait before potentially going through with DBS surgery.

    • Jessica, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I certainly know how you feel as my generalized dystonia impacts my walking as well. It’s beyond frustrating when simple tasks like walking become difficult and I truly hope the gait training physical therapy is helpful for you. Sending you my warmest wishes. -Pamela-

    • so interesting- i have a swallowing disorder from neurological illness and when i see people eating a meal or even more amazingly eating and walking it is incredible to me- they can walk and eat a sandwich mindlessly-

      • Hi Julia, Thank you so much for visiting my site. I know just what you mean, it’s amazing to me that people can speak clearly mindlessly! Wishing you the best of luck with everything. -Pamela-

  2. Pamela, any shortcomings in your ability to speak are certainly overcome in your talent to write.

  3. Franz Krämer

    Pam, your description of the linguistic therapy makes smile me, even if I know that it is a hard work for you.
    You describe for yourself difficult things with an ease which does not allow to think the reader of difficulties.
    I wish you a lot of success.

    • Frank, Lovely to hear from you my friend. My speech is most definitely my number one frustration with Dystonia. One of the reasons I love to write is the unfettered freedom I don’t give myself when I speak. I truly appreciate this outlet. Best to you. Pam

  4. mspattywoods@aol.com

    Dear Pamela, You are so beautiful, inside and out, all the way through. You make me smile.Have you ever read about Yoga Nidra? Visual meditation. The have a diagram in one of my books about the Gyrus Homunculus that shows how the segments correlate the man’s central nervous system in recline across the two hemispheres of the brain. The toes are number one and the very last nerve segment 21 or 22? is not for the top of the head but rather the larynx, weird not the tip of the tongue either. It is amazing to think about the function.Larynx. Communication. Your so good at that. You fascinate me. xo, Patty

    • Patty, You are a beautiful person yourself and I’ve missed our conversations. Can’t say I’ve read about Yoga Nidra but sounds interesting. I hope you are well. Sending you my warmest wishes. xxx -Pamela-

  5. You are amazing. Thank you for writing this, I especially love the way you describe the brain’s ability to “think ahead” when formulating words, and the difficulty that comes with combining complex sounds. A rarely discussed and largely misunderstood issue.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. My speech truly is the most frustrating aspect of my dystonia and comes up often in my blog. While paying attention to controlling my speech yields many benefits, the process itself is quite tiring and the results not quite what I would wish. But we take what we can get!!! Sending you my best. -Pamela-

  6. Bravo! You are such a talented writer, and you really know how to bring out the best in us. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to post a link to this on our Dystonia page!

    • Kurt, Thank you for all you do for the Dystonia community, making us stronger and giving us hope for a future without Dystonia. I appreciate all your support with the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Dystonia Support Group and my blog. You are a wonderful person. Wishing you all the best. -Pamela-

  7. Hi Pam, I always have to repeat myself. It’s hard to always slow down or plan the smoothest way to say something. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Don, I totally relate to your situation as I’m constantly asked to repeat myself, especially over the phone. I guess we can simply do our best. Always lovely to hear from you. Have a great weekend. -Pam-

  8. You definitely have a way with words in your writing–it is a gift how well you can express your experiences. I understand about the quest for perfection; I’ve had to constantly remind myself the last few years that “practice makes progress,” and progress is a much more approachable goal than perfection. Keep up the hard work and congrats on the progress 🙂

    • Renee, What an insightful comment. I love your perspective, which informs so many aspects of our lives. Thank you for sharing. I wish you great progress as well! -Pamela-

  9. Edward Gewirtz

    If anyone knows the difficulty of walking and producing comprehensible speech, it is yours truly. My philosophy has always been, for the last 30 some odd years, not “to deal with it” but to make “the best of it” and hope that one day our efforts to raise awareness and money for dystonia research will pay off so that we will be lauding the efforts of medical science to “to cure it.”

    • Ed, You certainly do make the best of Dystonia and I have such tremendous respect for your can-do attitude. I’ll be celebrating with you, my friend, when they find that elusive cure. xxx -Pam-

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