Ari Fleischer, Speaking for Himself Ari Fleischer resigned as White House press secretary in July, after working for President Bush since his election campaign and has now formed his own communications firm. At 42, he’s been in politics for two decades, building a career as a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), the House Ways ... Features
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Features  |   September 01, 2003
Ari Fleischer, Speaking for Himself
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2003
Ari Fleischer, Speaking for Himself
The ASHA Leader, September 2003, Vol. 8, 2. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.08162003.2
The ASHA Leader, September 2003, Vol. 8, 2. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.08162003.2
Ari Fleischer resigned as White House press secretary in July, after working for President Bush since his election campaign and has now formed his own communications firm. At 42, he’s been in politics for two decades, building a career as a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), the House Ways and Means Committee, presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, and—since 1999—George W. Bush.
In his final days at the White House, Fleischer invited The ASHA Leader for an interview to talk, for a change, about himself. In particular, he wanted to reflect upon the importance to him of the speech-language pathology services he received for a childhood lisp.
When did your lisp first become evident?
I remember it very distinctly in first grade. I talked a lot, but had a pronounced lisp. It was just part of growing up for me. I was the youngest, with two older brothers, and everybody thought I sounded cute when I was little. That’s what my mother remembers. But when I got to first grade, my parents took it seriously and sought treatment for me. Every Wednesday afternoon I would go to the speech and hearing center at the hospital in Greenwich, CT, to see Dr. Shulman. Of course for a kid, everything is amusing, and I always liked going to the town next door.
What techniques did your speech-language pathologist use?
I was treated for tongue thrust, and I remember that Dr. Shulman put something on my tongue to show me where my tongue was supposed to go. He put candy, or some kind of treat, on my tongue. He did one-on-one treatment for several months, as I remember. The treatment wasn’t over a long period of time. Perhaps that’s standard for that type of lisp. Mine wasn’t severe, but it wasn’t a light one either.
Having this disorder and overcoming it—has that in any way influenced who you are today?
Looking back, I believe that it doesn’t matter what impediment you may have—if you get treatment, you can be anybody and do anything. The sky’s the limit. What’s important is to get the treatment.
To this day there will be moments when—if I have to use a “th” word with an “s” word back to back—I can still feel the tongue go up and move to where it’s supposed to be. It was drilled into me and ingrained in me. It’s a learned thing, and I’m still cognizant of the training and the technique. If I think about it, I’m still aware of where I’m supposed to put my tongue.
I can’t say that because I had a lisp, it made me anything other than who I am. But if I hadn’t gone to a speech-language pathologist—if my parents hadn’t taken it seriously and I had not done what you’re supposed to do to learn to speak correctly—I might not have been able to hold this job. I don’t know.
The treatment opened up doors because I had a handicap, a speech impediment, and I overcame it.
Your career has been built upon your ability to communicate, beginning after college and leading to an office in the West Wing. When did you notice you had a gift for communication?
I’m not sure that I do—especially in that briefing room! But really, I don’t see it that way. I know that I’m very fortunate to have this job and to work with the president. But there are a lot of people serving the president who have gifts and talents in a number of different functions and capacities. We just do our jobs around here.
My job is to speak for the president. It requires a lot of homework, a lot of substantive learning. I spend a lot of time with the president, listening to the president, and then I have to rely on my judgment to go out and say the right things and not to say things that shouldn’t be said. Hopefully I’m somewhat articulate in being able to do it.
What prompted you to call ASHA?
I wanted to reach out because it hit me one day that I had a speech impediment, and my job is to speak. I wanted to share my story with the hope that children—first-graders or anyone—who have any type of speech impediment can see this as an example. It doesn’t matter what impediment you may have today, there’s a great future tomorrow if you get the treatment and you work at it. So I decided to find the professional association and tell my story.
I hope I can inspire children who have lisps and others with speech disorders to realize that it can be a phase in your life that you deal with and go through, and it’s over and you can still have a wonderful future ahead.
And I also would say to all the speech-language pathologists and other health care workers that you never know what impact you are having on the children you are treating today. In first grade, Dr. Shulman made a difference in my life that I’m sure he never anticipated at the time.
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September 2003
Volume 8, Issue 16