I am fragilely human, and I stare my fragile humanity in its face every single day. Yet, staring back at me is the face of God, full of grace and forgiveness. In this fragile humanity, I find my identity but for the sake of your reading, there is much more to know about me: I am a believer, I am growing, I am learning, I am imperfect, I am a future speech-language pathologist (SLP), and I was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) at a young age.
You can rightly assume that my diagnosis impacted my career of choice since speech-language pathologists work to assess, diagnose, and treat communication and swallowing disorders across the lifespan. Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder. A person with apraxia knows what they want to say but struggles to plan and sequence motor movements to execute productions for effective communication. A hallmark of CAS is inconsistent errors rather than patterns of errors; typically, nothing is said the same way twice.
Because the etiology of CAS is not well known, I cannot pinpoint why I have it. At 18 months old, my mom recognized I was not following typical development, so she sought early intervention. Although much was still being researched at the time, I was diagnosed with CAS. I was in speech therapy from 18 months until I was 12 years old. Without my full acknowledgment, this diagnosis defined my childhood. I was pulled out of classes constantly for speech therapy, totaling 3 hours of therapy a week to work on diminishing parts of my fragile humanity. No matter how hard people tried to understand me, the pressure of speaking “right” left me feeling frustrated, inadequate, and broken all because my fragile humanity was showing more so than those around me. I ached to belong in the normalcy surrounding me. This all resulted in a quiet, sweet girl with debilitating anxiety, deep loneliness, and an unhealthy strive for perfectionism which led to seeking therapeutic counseling too.
This hurt I experienced led me to search for something bigger. A vast realization that I could not do it all on my own; I did not have enough grace for my fragile humanity alone. I fell into the hands of God, desperate for grace I could not give, forgiveness for my everyday failures, and hope for better days. Now, on the outside, you would not recognize that I have CAS since there are no visible signs or symptoms, but my brain is still always working in ways to cope. I have coped well enough that most people state they would not have guessed I had a speech disorder. Regardless, I notice the errors that occur despite how much thought, planning, and rehearsing goes into every word I say.
I fell into the hands of God, desperate for grace I could not give, forgiveness for my everyday failures, and hope for better days.
In June of 2021, I had a full-circle experience of being a clinician at Camp Candoo. Camp Candoo is an intensive speech therapy and early literacy camp for children diagnosed with CAS. Parents nationwide enroll their children in hopes of improving their speech and language. We will call the client I worked with Addison. Addison’s diagnosis story is very different than mine. She was born with a chromosome deletion, resulting in a multitude of supplemental diagnoses including a cleft palate, a hearing loss, and global apraxia (difficulty with all motor planning).
At first glance, there was nothing similar about our experiences aside from a single diagnosis. After all, it is true, once you meet one person with apraxia… you’ve met one person with apraxia. Yet, it only took about 2 minutes before I felt deeply connected to her fragile humanity. She worked so hard to speak “right” that it didn’t take long before the exhausting effort of speaking wore into frustration and difficulty persisting.
For Addison, I wanted to aid her communication and be a safe space to grow. I wanted to help her say sounds and consistent productions to make a difference long term. Yet, her reactions to communicative efforts—her fragile humanity—spoke louder to me. I saw myself and the road I had paved due to frustration, perfectionism, and anxiety, which all affected my life in a larger way than just talking.
We worked tirelessly on her speech using an evidence-based approach, but I strived to target her comfortability in being human in our sessions. So, we danced, and we danced a lot. We danced and sang “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift because I don’t need piles of evidence to prove that replacing pain with a little joy and dancing helps (and that Taylor Swift is great). We physically shook off the frustration, the inadequacy, and the hopelessness. The somatic release was there as a reminder that we are human, we are not perfect, and that is okay. In our shortcomings and moments of fragile humanity, we are not broken. Our fragile humanity creates beauty and joy when we acknowledge that we were never meant to be perfect.
It was 20 years after my diagnosis and 2 weeks spent with Addison that I truly realized I was not alone. I was never alone in what I was feeling and experiencing, as God walked beside me accepting my fragile humanity when I couldn’t. Life is hard to make sense of. Those with disabilities have no choice but to face their fragile humanity head on; in many ways it becomes our whole identity. Yet, resources, acceptance, and understanding are not always available because it requires others’ introspection of fragile humanity. This breeds the idea that our fragile humanity is wrong, rather than something beautifully generated to make us each unique in God’s image, ultimately leading to internalizing feelings of brokenness. Empathy brings us all closer together, regardless of our differences. The best way to support those around us is by beginning to accept our own fragile humanities in the beautiful ways they reflect God’s image.
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