My first National Stuttering Association conference

Whew! I just attended my first NSA conference and what an empowering, beautiful experience it was! It’s difficult to put into words the impact it left, but I wanted to summarize some of the key learning points I’m walking away with –

First and foremost –

“Fluency has no value and stuttering has no shame”

heard during an amazing lecture by Loryn McGill and Nora O’Connor, source: unknown

The entire VEA Newport Beach Marriott was booked for the NSA Conference. The atmosphere of liberation at this hotel full of people who stutter was palpable as everyone seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, being in a space where they could speak freely. There was no push to use strategies, no one tracking the frequency or severity of stuttering in their speech, no one asking them to “try again with easy speech”, just the simple freedom to speak how they do. What a beautiful thing that so many of us take for granted.

Being a part of a community is vital!

Everywhere I looked people of all ages were welcoming newcomers and old-timers alike into this wonderfully supportive community. Kids and adults attended workshops and opened up, sometimes tearfully, about how it felt to meet other people who stutter for the first time. That alone must have been substantial in helping them begin their journey of self-acceptance.

A fellow attendee who is now an annual attendee and involved member of the stuttering community mentioned that they did not initially want to attend the conference. Their parents wanted them to go, and even though they went in reluctantly the first couple of years, they always knew there were other people who stuttered and there was a supportive community out there ready to accept them when the time came.

Having a community of people who understand what you are experiencing is foundational in helping normalize that experience for yourself. Seeing others stutter helps children feel secure about their own stutter and ultimately helps them advocate for themselves.

What’s a parent’s role in advocacy?

As SLPs, parents, and caregivers of those who stutter, it is vital that we not only advocate for our kids/students but that we teach them to advocate for themselves. As a parent myself and as someone who works primarily with young children who stutter, I couldn’t help but be in awe of all the parents who attended the conference and became a part of the stuttering community in order to better empower their children. 

For kids to learn how to advocate for themselves, they first need to see their parents, caregivers, teachers, and SLPs advocating for them. We can advocate for our children and clients by:

  • Asking them – “what would you like me to do?” when they face a difficult speaking situation. Do they want you to step in? Do they want you to let them try on their own? What do they want your role to be? Let them tell you how you can help.
  • Letting their teacher/coach know they stutter before they begin a new school year or activity 
    • There are several resources to start this conversation such as this cool pamphlet for teachers from the Stuttering Foundation of America!
    • As your child prepares for the next school year, you can say something like “You know, Mr. Johnson doesn’t know you stutter, wouldn’t it be cool if they did?”
  • Encouraging them to attend support groups and conventions even if they are resistant. They will always know that there is a stuttering community out there ready to support them. 
  • Meeting them where they are. If they are not ready to advertise their stutter, it’s okay! Instead of pushing them, let’s acknowledge where they are, validate their feelings and help them get to the point of self-acceptance through open discussions.
  • Letting them feel their feelings. There will be difficult days. There will likely be days where the child wishes they didn’t stutter. “The child doesn’t have to love their stuttering all the time, they just have to be okay sitting in a room with it” – Loryn McGill, OC Stuttering Center
  • And most importantly, letting them speak for themselves. DON’T finish a sentence for them, let them talk for themselves even if it looks like they are having a hard time. Let them take their time, and show them that it’s okay for them to take their time.

If you or someone you know stutters, attend the NSA conference, Friends Who Stutter conference, Virtual meet-up groups, get involved in the stuttering community!

Here are some ways to get started –

  • Attend conferences offered by the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and Friends Who Stutter
  • Attend virtual group meetings for kids, teens, adults, or parents. There’s a great virtual meeting coming up through National Stuttering Association for all PARENTS and CAREGIVERS of kids who stutter on July 21st, click here to learn more.
  • Join a social media group to connect with other people who stutter and their loved ones.
  • Join your local NSA chapter or START ONE!
  • Learn more about stuttering and educate your community!

Let us join this movement to normalize stuttering, celebrate verbal diversity, equip our clients and children who stutter with advocacy skills, and do our part in advocating for those who stutter by educating the public! Cheers!

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