By Joanne Hein
In our private practice we work with many young people who stutter. We have a young man who has truly struggled to get each word out. I started working with him when he was about 9 years old, and my husband took over with him for the past year and a half. This story is a tribute to him, certainly one of our hardworking teen clients.
Now this young man is 13 and just became a Bar Mitzvah earlier this month. In the Jewish tradition, this means he led a good portion of a Saturday Sabbath service, including chanting in Hebrew from the Torah (the holy scroll containing the Old Testament), reading in English and Hebrew during the service, and giving a speech on the meaning of the week's Torah portion. This is a formidable task for any young person, but the preparation and the speaking skills needed for a young person who stutters is enormous. In fact, his very supportive mother had struggled with the option of not putting the boy through this rite of passage, rather than to subject him to this challenge. Happily, the young man embraced the challenge and, to the absolute joy of his family, friends, the clergy and teachers, and my husband and me, the Bar Mitzvah boy was poised, focused and fluent!! When (during his speech) he was thrown off by the temporary commotion caused by a young cousin, he quickly regained his focus and his fluency. If you think his mother cried with emotion during this experience, you should have seen me.
I was so completely overcome with joy for this hard-working young man!! After the service, he greeted guests and, while his conversational speech is still a work-in-progress, he did not let anything stop him from showing his appreciation to all his guests and enjoying time with his friends. My husband and I were so moved by the family's response to us - they openly and proudly introduced us to the other attendees and credited us with a great deal of their son's success. I was prepared to be quietly labeled as "a friend" or something, so this was a really big deal - to be openly acknowledged and to freely talk about stuttering and how far this young man has come.
Later in the evening, the family had a great, fun celebration, complete with a DJ, dinner, dancing, and activities for all ages. Again, this young man was a very mature host who spent time talking with all his guests and having a terrific time. A year ago I never would have envisioned his poise and confidence!! One of the traditions at the party is to have influential people in the Bar Mitzvah person's life come up and light one of 13 candles with him. We knew he had chosen to have us light a candle, but what he had to say to us was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my 38 years as a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist. He was kind enough to reprint his words for us, so I want to share them with you:
"This next couple is very special to me. I see them more often than almost anyone else and they've played a huge role not only in my Bar Mitzvah, but also in my everyday life. They help me say what I want to say, speak up, and be brave. Honestly, I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. Herb and Joanne Hein, please join me and come light Candle Number 9."
The song he chose for this tribute? "Say What You Want To Say" by Sara Bareilles, which is a beautiful and powerful song that was featured during the Grammy awards this past week. I wish all people who stutter the opportunity to say what you want to say, speak up and be brave!