Owl Hollow Press is publishing my new book, “Narcosis Room,” under my pseudonym, Louise Cypress, on Feb. 19. All of my writing contains pieces of my heart, but this book in particular has charged memories from childhood. One of the main characters struggles with a lisp.
I grew up with not only a lisp, but also the inability to pronounce the letter R. This meant that I couldn’t say my own name, Jennifer Louise Williams.
When I was little, many adults thought my speech impediments were cute. People would call our house on purpose to hear me answer: “Thith ith Jennifuh Williamth thpeaking.” I remember trying to speak correctly, but it seemed the harder I tried, the worst I sounded.
As I grew older, having speech impediments became increasingly embarrassing. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was relieved that a fellow classmate had a stutter because his challenge deflected some of the attention from me.
I had an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for speech articulation. I saw a speech therapist all the way from preschool to fourth or fifth grade. “Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pull back into the R sound,” the therapists would tell me. I practiced over and over again. But what I could accomplish in the coat-closet of a room the school gave the speech therapist to work in, I could rarely transfer to ordinary life.
Saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning was another opportunity for humiliation. I recall the first day that with extraordinary focus, I was able to say the pledge clearly. It required a mindfulness that was at the tipity-top of my developmental ability.
By sixth grade I had overcome my speech impediments but they are still there, like sleeping tigers, waiting to pounce. When I’m nervous, tired or have had too much to drink, I lose my R’s and S’s.
I am grateful to be a child of the 1980s who grew up in California schools at a time when (good) districts were quick to give IEP speech therapy services to young children. I am a living example of the power of early intervention. Unfortunately, not every child with an articulation issue is that lucky. As a third-grade teacher in the 2000s teaching in Northern California, I was told things like: “That child doesn’t qualify for services” or “Let’s wait and see if he grows out of his speech disorder.”
I didn’t grow out of my speech impediment. It took skilled therapists and dedication to make things better.
“Narcosis Room” would have been a title I couldn’t have pronounced as a child, but I would have seen myself in the character of Dean Mathews, who goes to great lengths to blend in, not be humiliated and improve. As a young adult urban fantasy book, I hope that readers love it. But I also hope that school districts stop living in a fantasy world where they think that children with speech articulation disorders will magically get better without adequate help.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at email@example.com.