Speech therapy is in me, and always will be

Speech therapy is in me, and always will be

Speech therapy is in me, and always will be

Ray Mancini, Designer

For visual designer Ray Mancini, creating a new look for the California Speech Language Hearing Association has special meaning.

Mancini has undergone therapy for stuttering off and on since he was a young child. He knows well the frustration of fighting to get words out and the benefits that speech therapy can provide.

“Speech therapy is in me, and always will be. It’s allowed me to get through some of my hardest speaking moments by giving me the confidence that yes, I can do this,” he said.

Along with his wife, Lina Fenequito, Mancini runs Good World Media, which provides design services for companies and organizations. Good World Media is working with CSHA on its strategic branding initiative, which includes the creation of the new brand identity and system (logo, typography, colors, etc.).

Working with CSHA has allowed Mancini to open up a side of himself that he usually doesn’t show.

“To use my skills as a designer to help an organization like CSHA, one that changes the lives of people just like myself, is one of those full-circle moments that don’t come around often,” he said. “I rarely let on that I have a slight blocking stutter to our clients — because it’s not very noticeable and the topic doesn’t come up — so to sit in a meeting and speak so openly about it without fear or worry with CSHA has been a great feeling!”

Mancini has experienced many methods of speech therapy throughout his life.

His earliest recollection of therapy is when his mother took him to see speech pathologist Helen Beebe in his hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania. Beebe, a pioneer in speech and hearing therapy, treated Mancini’s stuttering by having him talk while “chewing.”

From there he “went off to elementary school to take speech therapy once a week,” he said. “I remember being aware that I had an issue with my speech, but as a young child who was excelling socially and academically, it didn’t resonate with me to try and truly change anything.”

His stuttering was minor and he was able to work around it. He avoided reading aloud and switched words in his head to avoid “blocking sounds.” He also became even more outgoing and expressive. His therapy ended in fourth grade and didn’t pick up again until he was in high school.

“My speech wasn’t getting better, and while it never hindered me socially and I had many wonderfully understanding friends, it was hard inside and made for too many work-arounds in my life to keep up the façade,” he said.

His next round of therapy came after his parents watched a television report about “20/20” reporter John Stossel’s experience with stuttering and how he got help at the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia. Mancini subsequently spent two weeks at Hollins.

“Over those two weeks, I was confronted head-on with my worst fears: speaking in front of groups, making phone calls, reading aloud,” he said. “The first day there they videotaped each of us talking and reading, and it was tough to watch.”

At Hollins, Mancini learned to slow down his speech and address his fears. He returned home with new confidence and a feeling of “something has changed in me.”

“I still stuttered and blocked. I wasn’t perfect,” he said. But he had a new narrative for his stuttering, “a new outlook, and the confidence that I could overcome my fears and control my speech if I really needed and wanted to.”

Still, his stuttering remained a constant presence. He went on to get a degree in computer graphics from Syracuse University, and he coped with it through humor and word switches and “minor avoidance of pressure situations.”

After enrolling in a graduate program at the Pratt Institute in New York City, Mancini found he couldn’t finesse his way through anymore. The demands of the program – describing and defending his design work in front of classmates and instructors – convinced him he needed to return to speech therapy.

“I couldn’t adlib my way through a project presentation or a critique,” he said.

Mancini connected with a speech therapist in Brooklyn named Laura Reisler. She provided “a place to talk openly about my speech, express my innermost frustrations, and find my confidence and control again,” he said.

“What we worked on was slowing down my speech and using exercises to show me the benefits. When I talked slower, I was more in control and actually sounded much more fluent,” he said. “We did real world experiments, like just walking around Brooklyn and talking to store owners, strangers and anyone who would listen.”

Mancini worked with Reisler throughout grad school and credits her with giving him “the tools and confidence I needed to survive and thrive during that time of my life and beyond.”

That has stayed with him through his professional life where few people know about his speech troubles. He’s no longer taking therapy, but the lessons are still with him.

He views stuttering as both a blessing and a curse.

“A curse because I’ve had to think every moment of not only what I want to say, but how I am going to say it. And it’s exhausting,” he said. “Because I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve switched my words around, laughed off a blocking stutter as ‘being forgetful,’ or shied away from something I really wanted to do for fear of stuttering. Many who know me have no idea that I stutter and block. But the cost of that facade is a daily, often exhausting struggle for me.

“But it’s also a blessing because it has made me more empathetic, more understanding of others who are different in this world, more humble and more expressive in other ways — like writing, art, music, singing and, yes, even comedic improv and acting. Being aware from an early age that I’m imperfect has made me work harder in every aspect of my life, achieving things that I didn’t know I could because I was driven to prove something to myself.”

Therapy also is part of that “blessing.”

“Without speech therapy, I’d probably be less confident, and have less of a feeling that I can control my speech if I work hard enough,” he said. “I’d be unaware of the fact that there are others out there like me, of where my speech issues fall in relation to others and of the professional community that exists to support all of us.”