By Dylan Levin
Two years ago Dylan Levin asked friends and family to donate to the Stuttering Foundation as a way to honor his Bar-Mitzvah. Now as a high school student, he is busy making speeches and presentations without letting stuttering get in the way. The following essay is a podcast script Dylan gave recently at his school.
As many of you know or don’t know, I have a speech disfluency called stuttering. I have had this since the age of four. My stuttering is an involuntary movement, which I can’t control. Stuttering was never an issue at school; I always participated in class and I never felt that there was a problem until one day in sixth grade. That was the day when I realized that my stuttering was never going to go away and therefore I had to work hard on my speaking abilities.
It happened at my school spelling bee. There were two ways people got to be a part of the spelling bee. The first one was where you compete with people in your own advisory and then the winners go against people from all of the other advisories. Lucky for me, I won the spelling bee for my advisory. I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to spell words in front of the school at that moment in time because I was just happy that I had won. The day wore on and I started to become really nervous because I had never given an announcement or done anything, really, in front of the entire school. I would participate and give presentations in my class and there I felt very comfortable. But speaking in front of the whole school made me nervous. I was nervous because only the people in my grade really knew that I stuttered and that bothered me because what if I stuttered during the spelling bee?
How would people respond? At 2 p.m., it was time for the spelling bee. I walked down the stairs to the cafeteria where it was being held and I took my seat on the stage. The problem was that I psyched myself out. I knew that I was going to fail. One by one the kids spelled and one by one they got it right. My turn. The word was population. Dead silence. I must have said uh and um about a hundred times to make it seem like I wasn’t stuttering. And the thing was that I knew how to spell the word, but I just could not get the word out. Population is not a hard word to spell. Then the most horrible thing happened, laughter. Never in my life had anyone really laughed at me like this girl did. Her name was Allie, and I will never forget her.
I purposefully spelled the word wrong, just to get out of this embarrassing situation. I went into the bathroom and started to cry. I was mortified and angry. I began asking God why me, why did you give me this terrible stutter? Why did you make people laugh? I walked backed into the cafeteria and sat in the back. I did not want to show myself to anyone. When I came back the teacher gave some weak speech about being respectful to all of the people in the spelling bee, but everyone could tell that it was directed at what happened to me. Nobody knew what I had just gone through and nobody understood my situation.
Later that night, the phone rang and it was Allie’s teacher calling to discuss what happened at school. I did not tell my mom because I did not want her to get involved. I did not want her to get upset. The truth is that I probably should have told her the moment I got in the car, right after school. Mr. L told my mom the whole situation, and she wanted to come into his class, to talk with the kids about my disfluency and how to be accepting of a person with disabilities. I know that my mom, when it comes to my speech disfluency, will always have my back.
Four years have passed since this happened and now it is only a memory lost in the pages of my life. My speech from that time has improved and I owe that partially to Allie. If she had not laughed then I probably would not have experienced real vulnerability. Every person that does stutter, has his or her human form wrapped in a blanket of vulnerability all the time, but it is how we persevere during these hard times that truly define us. I know now that I would not be the same person that I am today if I did not stutter. I carry around this memory with me always because it is a reminder that I must keep on persevering and I must keep on talking because if I let this stutter overcome me, then I have lost all hope. What I am trying to convey is that people must persevere to overcome any obstacle that they are faced with. Maybe one day I will not have a speech disfluency, but until then, I will keep living and talking.