Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Bit of an Accent

By David Ozab

“Will my child be accepted?” It’s a question every parent asks, particularly parents of kids with Apraxia of Speech. I’ve asked that question myself many times. My daughter Anna has always made friends easily, but as other children her age became more verbal, I began to notice a barrier forming between her and them. It’s been two years, but this incident still sticks with me. She had just turned four, and it was the first time she was excluded because of her Apraxia.

We were at our local mall's playland that day—one of Anna’s favorite places to play. She likes the waterfall themed slide, the hollow log topped with a lounging bear, and the big red canoe. I like that there's only one way in or out so it's easy to keep an eye on her.

I sat by the entrance as I always do. I had my notebook at hand to catch any cute or funny things Anna might say. She ran around, slid down the slide, and made friends with all the kids—it was spring break so there were lots of kids to play with. She approached an older girl who was sitting on the bear and asked the same question she always does:

"Do you want to play with me?"  The girl didn't understand, so I repeated it.

"She got a bit of an accent," the girl replied.

"Yeah," I said. "She's in speech therapy."

The girl shrugged her shoulders, slid off the bear, and ran over to the slide. Anna followed, of course, like she always does when she wants to be friends.

A few minutes later, I saw Anna talking to the older girl, who sat by the slide with two other girls closer to Anna's age. The girls struggled to understand Anna so I walked over and helped translate:

"She said 'My name is Anna, what's your name?’”

"I'm Whitney," the older girl said.

"Do you want to play with me?" Anna asked again. I repeated what Anna said so the girls would understand.

"This game's for three," Whitney said. "I'm the mommy cat, and they're the kittens."

I wasn't sure if the girls were excluding Anna on purpose, or if they’d created a three-person game, but I quickly thought of a way they could include her.

"Can't there be three kittens?" I asked. "Like the song?"  I sang a verse of The Three Little Kittens. Anna and the two younger girls smiled, but Whitney shook her head.

"This is a different game.” She got up and walked away. The two younger girls followed her. Anna started off too, but I called her over.

"Anna, they’ve already started their game."

She pouted. “But I want to play with them.”

"There are lots of kids here. Why don't you find another one to play with?”

I gave her a hug and sent her on her way. Within five minutes, she and another girl were running around the play area, sliding down the slide, and laughing. She was over the snub.

But me? Not so much. It's something I've worried about since she was first diagnosed with Apraxia. She's always made friends so easily, but as she grows older, will she be seen as different and shunned by some of the kids? Her speech is improving rapidly, but she may need years of therapy to be completely understandable and even then she may never lose her "accent."

How will she handle the rejection? How will I? How much do I shield her? How much do I let her experience so she can learn to take it and ultimately ignore it?

Those questions were on my mind the rest of the day, and they’ve nagged at me ever since. Every time she enters a new social situation, I always wonder if she’ll be singled out because of her speech.

Almost two years have passed since that day at the mall. She’s six now, and has just started the second semester of Kindergarten in our neighborhood public school. She still has trouble being understood at times, but she's had no trouble making friends. Her outgoing personality and our constant encouragement have made a big difference. So has her ongoing therapy. Other than her “accent,” her classmates see her as another girl in their class.

If you are a parent of a child about to enter school, and you're worried about how your child will fit in, I hope that I've eased your worries a little bit. Yes it can be difficult, but in my experience it's never as bad as we imagine it will be. Take advantage of all the support that's given to you, and then let your child have fun.


Biography: David Ozab is currently editing and revising his first non-fiction book, A Smile for Anna, which tells the story of his daughter’s cleft diagnosis and surgery, her difficulties with speech, and her incredible outgoing spirit through it all. He is a Contributing Editor at About This Particular Macintosh and a Guest Contributor at MyEugene. His writing has been (or will be) featured such diverse publications as Chicken Soup for the Soul, Errant Parent, and Catholic Digest. He is a stay-at-home dad and blogs about parenting and life at Fatherhood Etc (http://www.fatherhoodetc.com/). He lives in Oregon with his wife Julia, his daughter Anna, and two lop rabbits named Jellybean and Oreo.


David Ozab: Writer http://www.davidozab.com/ Salem, Oregon