Early in July, I attended the 4 day 36th annual National Stuttering Association (NSA) Conference which was held at the beautiful Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There were over 800 people there and about 100 newcomers. As announced at a general session, we were participating in the largest gathering of people who stutter (PWS) in the world and it was EXCITING and DYNAMIC and MOVING, to say the least!
The conference was a ‘talk fest’that started early in the morning and continued through the wee hours of the next morning every day! It was packed with workshops for all ages and all interests, led by PWS, SLPs, parents of PWS, NSA board members and PWS supporters. The workshops, many of which were interactive, ranged from icebreakers, to open mic, to sessions relating to stuttering therapies, to those focusing on research, to round tables, to improv, to those focusing on SLPs and clients, to family gatherings. All of these lived up to the predictions of the NSA and were educational, motivational and challenging for everyone!
You see, there’s something very special that takes place at stuttering association conferences. Surrounding the organized workshops and general sessions, people who often find it difficult to speak, find themselves connecting and interacting with other attendees over meals, breaks and throughout the day and night! It is infectious! Instead of going to relax somewhere by yourself, you are motivated to hang out in the hotel lobby and talk to friends, to families, to complete strangers about your lives, about your struggles, about stuttering. There is a constant buzz throughout the venue of voices, loud and open, expressing and being heard. Everyone there is there to speak and to listen – to listen patiently with great interest and focus until someone finishes their thought and then to share their own thoughts and ideas and experiences. Great friendships are born at such conferences.
These conferences also nurture important ‘partnerships’ and creative liaisons where entrepreneurs, researchers, SLPs and PWS network and together spark new ideas that lead to innovations in stuttering research, support and awareness. In addition, important networking and relationship building between fluency associations also takes place. I want to express my gratitude to the NSA and in particular to Dr. Gerald Maguire, who has offered his support of the CSA and to Tom Scharstein, who, during a meeting with him at last year’s NSA conference where we discussed the success of NSA Chapters, reached out to the CSA and offered his expertise and assistance in helping the CSA implement our Regional Support Group initiative, which is now launched. At this year’s NSA Conference, meetings and networking occurred involving members of the planning committee (from the NSA, CSA, ABC, and ISA) for the IFA – ISA – ICA World Congress to be held in Montréal, Québec, July 22-25, 2021.
In addition to the above, some of my personal highlights from the conference are:
- connecting with all of my NSA ‘family’ – such great conversations, such enthusiasm, such support!
- co-chairing the “Parents of Adults & Young Adults Who Stutter” workshop with my long-time NSA friend Annette Onofri
- meeting and conversing with Vince Vawter and his wife – Vince is an inspiration to us all as a former writer, editor and publisher in the newspaper business, a PWS, and the author of the autobiographical book Paperboy (winner of a 2014 Newbery Honor) and of the sequel, Copyboy, which I am now reading. I encourage you all to read both books which are not only well written, but which share life insights and stories which can benefit us all. Check out his website at vincevawter.com
- re-connecting with prize-winning author Cameron Raynes, writer of First Person Shooter (about the experience of adolescent stuttering), and attending his workshop co-hosted with Elizabeth Wislar and Jaymie Horak: “Writers Who Stutter Present: Spectacular Stuttering Soliloquies”. Excellent workshop!
- Have a look at his website: https://www.cameronraynes.com/
- hearing the motivational speeches in the general sessions “Why Me?” Stories of Understanding, Acceptance, & Embracing One’s Stutter AND Refining Courage to Face our Fears
- attending the Taboo Topics in Stuttering interactive workshop offered by Monica Johnson, Anne Williams and John Tetnowski which roused everyone’s emotions and left us all with food for thought.
All in all, it was yet again an EXCELLENT NSA Annual Conference and I look forward to attending again next year!
Eeva Stierwalt is the National Coordinator for the Canadian Stuttering Association.