When we tuned in to last month’s inauguration ceremonies, we would not have predicted that one of the take-aways would be how many Americans struggle with speech communication. There were no obvious clues that any of the speakers might have overcome significant challenges on their way to a microphone before the nation and the world.
But when Anderson Cooper interviewed inaugural poet and the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, on CNN the following day, part of their conversation was about difficulties with speech. Admitting that he had “mild dyslexia” as a child, media superstar Cooper asked Gorman about her own issues with spoken language. She replied, “I am proud to be in the ‘speech difficulty club’ with you and President Biden and also Maya Angelou,” referring to President Biden’s acknowledged stutter and Maya Angelou’s five years of selective mutism following a childhood trauma.
Gorman explained that her challenge was “dropping a whole swath of letters in the alphabet,” and in particular, the letter /r/. “Even to this day sometimes I struggle with it,” she told Cooper. But instead of turning away from her problems with language and focusing on the visual world, Gorman demonstrated remarkable persistence and determination by acknowledging the importance of spoken words and pronounced sounds.
Her approach to language fluency was a fierce and inspiring personal commitment to reading, writing, memorizing, and mindful pronunciation. She spoke her own written poetry aloud again and again, and also, through endless repetitions, learned “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Leslie Odom Jr.’s r-filled rap from the musical Hamilton.
We have long recognized that targeted learning and consistent practice are essential teaching strategies for students with dyslexia and other language learning difficulties. If your child struggles with words, we invite you to learn more about online reading, writing, and spelling therapy. And of course we are happy to answer your questions any time!
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.