Learning to fly
- Category: Personal Stories
- Published: Saturday, 22 March 2014 07:22
- Written by Jason Dawe
I was born in 1972 and raised in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland, Canada. As a very young child I knew my alphabet and was very well spoken, but about the age of 6 something happened. My parents describe it as almost an overnight change in which I was no longer able to get words out. My speech was paused, interrupted, and uncomfortable. This was devastating to my parents and family.
I had treatment with numerous speech professionals in St. John's. One therapist in particular provided some insight to my parents and support to me, as I was starting to experience ridicule and bullying. His name was Mr. Foley. He observed that when I was completely relaxed my stuttering became hardly noticeable, and he told my parents that I suffered from an “anxiety related verbal disfluency”, and that it would fade. However, it did not. The more I spoke the more anxious I got, the more anxious I got, the harder it was for me to speak.
I don't have to describe to anyone who stutters what it feels like. To feel completely alone in your own head, being in a room full of people and unable to contribute in a natural manner. To envy the simplest ability to even order food at a restaurant. I had some good friends who were understanding, but kids can be cruel and the open mockery, imitation, and whispered snickers in the hallways were at a volume of 11 on a scale from 1 to 10. It did a lot to reinforce the anxiety and insecurity.
Jason in uniform A New Purpose
I joined the Air Cadets at the age of 14, and found myself in a completely different world. Very few mocked me, and those that did were disciplined for it. I was not used to this!
It was here that I had to overcome things more than in school. At Cadets I had to teach classes and present myself, but the difference was I had more freedom. In school I would sit in the classroom sweating while waiting for my turn to read a paragraph out of a book. But at Cadets, I could creatively use synonyms or restructure my sentences to better deliver my message. Most importantly, a 'presentation' tone of voice helped to disconnect the anxiety loop and lessen the stuttering.
I applied these lessons in school and it helped. Kids in school were still cruel and impatient. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to drop-kick a teacher for saying "Just slow down". They meant well, but they just did not understand. I withdrew from much of school because of it.
At age 16 I applied for admission to a course in the Air Cadets in order to receive my glider pilot license. Hundreds of people were competing for about 15 positions. I suffered at the interview, straining and turning red while answering questions. Two of the three people on the admissions panel said no to my application, believing I was too nervous and would not succeed. But one man, Captain John MacLellan, saw something else. He noticed that I did not always speak like that. He argued for me, and I got admitted to the course! I was again in a completely different world in which I had to speak on a radio, without using visual cues such as nodding. I had to be quick and precise. My trick of the vocal tone change worked incredibly well in this environment.
Starting to fly
At 17 I received admission to another summer course to receive my private pilot's license. I flew over my house one day, and my dad used a scanner and listened to me communicating on the tower frequency. My mother tells me he wept with joy when he heard how well I was speaking. I continued my time with the cadets until the age of 19 and then enrolled in the Air Force as a reservist directly with the Air Cadet program. That was almost 22 years ago.
Jason and his son, Jack Positive outcomes
I have progressed in life, but still battle inner demons and anxiety about my speech. However, I am no longer victimized by it. I now have over 1,000 hours flying time and I work with an Aerospace company in St. John's as a technical writer. I am the Commanding Officer of a Viking Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. In these jobs I routinely communicate for a living. When I do stutter from time to time I am aware that to others listening it is as benign as a sneeze. Most of my friends and co-workers know my story now, and I am not ashamed of it, and I share funny stories about my life experiences. My message to all who deal with stuttering is to have patience, understand yourself and find personal techniques to cope. Only you fully know them. Remember, you can become a unique communicator. It may not feel like it, but you actually have a gift, not a disability. This gift is one that gives you the push to communicate differently and effectively – not like everyone else, but with your own voice. It's there.
Anyone can contact me anytime and I am always willing to exchange stories. If any of my experience lends itself to help you create new tools, I'll be a happy person.