Stuttering From a Different Perspective

William Baer
Bill at Conference
    Bill (seated, left) at the conference

I attended the Canadian Stuttering Association's annual conference on the weekend of October 22, 2022. My son had  invited me as a guest and I had recently retired from a career in optometry, so I gladly accepted the opportunity to spend a few days at one of the most spectacular and beautiful wonders of the world. After settling in at a comfortable and spacious apartment on Friday afternoon, we set off on foot to the nearby Hard Rock Cafe, a complimentary buffet of plentiful comfort food, and a cash bar. I had recently received 250 paper Canadian Dollars, which were entirely worthless in the US — not even my bank would take them. The bartender got permission to accept the discontinued currency, and I happily kept her busy filling the glasses. It was an auspicious beginning, especially since it was followed by a round of beer flights at the nearby Niagara Brewing Company.

A Humorous Start to the Day

The real fun began the next day as we were entertained and educated by a professional comedian who stutters herself, Nina G.  Good humor contains many kernels of truth, and my clinical experience has taught me that humor can be very therapeutic. I had a few good laughs and began to sense that this weekend might prove to be more than just another professional conference in a beautiful setting to be written off on taxes as an educational expense.

The Scientific Outlook

Next on the agenda were various scientific and medical presentations into causes and treatments of stuttering. While I wasn't able to follow the material in detail, I appreciated the difficulty and importance of investigating the neurological and biochemical causes of stuttering, and the seemingly endless quest for clinical solutions.  Stuttering is at its heart a neurological syndrome and that message is important to hear:  it’s not simply “being nervous”.

Listening to Personal Stories

My own career has shown me how little we know about the causes and prevention of even the most basic visual disorders.  The human body is indeed very complex. The presentations which caught more of my attention were the personal stories about the impact of stuttering on daily life. How does a person who stutters deal with this phenomenon that can so profoundly impact human communication? It came as no surprise to hear that frustration and shame were common reactions. I recalled similar feelings I had when at the age of twelve I discovered that I was the only person in my family who didn't have normal vision.

An Atmosphere of Friendship and Support

What I found to be the most striking aspect of the conference was the mutual support among the stuttering community. Sharing and friendship were the order of the day as people knew that they were surrounded by others who truly understand what is still a misunderstood condition.  My thanks go to Catherine, Jim, Gloria and the many others who made me feel at home away from home.

Stirring up Thoughts and Imagination

On Sunday, the wrap-up day for the conference, I took full advantage of the farewell brunch.  There were plenty of extra delicacies and take-aways. Nor could I resist reviewing the roaring waters of the Falls from the tranquil gardens of Queen Victoria Park.  At the time, I didn’t realize that if I had continued just another mile on the path, I would have arrived at the shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace. Perhaps there I would have found what I was truly looking for.

I would also like to commend the hard working board members and other volunteers of the CSA, as well as the staff of the Crowne Plaza. And many thanks to all the presenters who stirred up my thoughts and imagination.

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