NSA Conference 2017

The National Stuttering Association’s annual conference is happening again this July, this time in Dallas.

http://www.westutter.org/annual-conference/

At the moment, I’m planning on going. I’ve gone to three in a row now, and have enjoyed them immensely. You can read about some of my past conference experiences here on the site.

Admittedly I didn’t do the greatest job of writing up this last conference, but the others were slightly better. When I first went to the conference, I didn’t know what I’d get out of it. I got some really solid stuttering friends! And I still talk with them three years on. I always get some new insight to stuttering as well. A totally different angle or approach than what I would have thought up on my own.

The research updates are also interesting. Even if there’s not some huge cure-all breakthrough, it’s fascinating to hear how researchers are learning more and more.

I think my goal this year will definitely be trying to connect with more people who stutter. I know there are others like me — young professionals — married or not, kids or not. It would be great to hear about their backgrounds — college, first jobs, second jobs, interviews, having kids, meeting neighbors, the whole bit.

Will you be going?

 

The Stuttering Professional

The second workshop that I attended was on The Stuttering Professional. It was put on by Wes Williams, who I had met at last year’s conference. As someone who works in a professional office, I was very interested in what Wes had to say. My own experience has actually been pretty good. The people in my office don’t care that I stutter (at least nobody has called me out on it saying it’s affecting my work). Nor do they mock me or try to finish my words (well, not too much anyway).

Wes handed out some exercises for us:

Share a difficult time you’ve had in the workplace. One where you’ve overcome your reluctance to speak and one where you didn’t, but wish you would have.

For me, I have a lot of both (now). For a long time it was more the latter than former. When that was the case, I’d follow up with a one-on-one talk with meeting participants to express my concerns or an e-mail to the group listing out concerns that I “thought of after the meeting.” In reality I was scribbling down copious ideas in my notebook during the meeting.

Wes also had us consider interviews and two out of three questions:

Tell me about your responsibilities in your current role
What are two situations where you’ve overcome adversity at work
Describe the most frustrating part of your job

Lastly, he laid out strategies that could be considered at work, the first set specifically for interviews.

Under disclaimers, we should point out the elephant in the room early on. Yes, we stutter, no, there’s nothing I can do about it. We can then thank them in advance for their patience. And lastly, set some guidelines. Politely tell them that if we have a block to let us finish.

Under the Delivery, Wes suggested we use the following strategies during a discussion or presentation. Don’t break eye contact — they can still see you. Avoid avoidance and say what you want to say, not just what you think you can get out. Lastly, power through. If you don’t take your time, your time will take you.

This last point was very interesting. Basically it means that we will be consumed by how long we perceive something to be taking. The more we think about how long it’s taking, the more anxious we may feel. And that will cycle and cause us to stutter more.

The first few strategies are basically ways of advertising. I’ll admit I’m not as good at them as I could be. It’s also because I’ve been in the same office with the same people for several months.

The next set is something I can work on every day. I notice that I definitely break eye contact when I’m speaking to people, and especially when I’m stuttering. I also sometimes rush through things when I could stop, breath, think, and then speak.

I really liked this workshop because Wes offered very practical advice for anybody in an office who’s facing countless interactions every day.

First NSA Workshop

Before getting into the first conference workshop, let me just say that while I’ve written about my stuttering travel experiences before (checking in, ordering Starbucks, hailing cabs) I really didn’t think about it that much this time. I just feel better about everything, and I know more and more that stuttering isn’t going to end my travels or cause any major headaches. I also know that I can just say hello and hand a passport to the counter agent. And that I’ve been through most of these airports before, so I don’t have to ask for directions. And that well, I’ll still get coffee even if it takes me an extra few seconds to say “mocha.”

I was excited to go to the first workshop – a conference icebreaker. I had worried before about how I was going to meet new people at this, my second conference. At your first conference, you can just go to the First Timer’s Workshop and BAM! All sorts of great contacts.

There was a very brief introduction to the workshop, and then we counted off to get into groups. This was funny of course, because all of us probably dreaded counting off in school at some point. I even stuttered on my number, as did a few others. And see this is what makes the NSA Conference great – right off the bat they show you that stuttering is fine. Even if it’s in front of 100 other people who you don’t know. There’s nobody to say your number for you, to laugh at you, to look at you funny. Just patience. After counting off, we separated into groups and were handed … rolls of toilet paper.

I think there were about a dozen people in our circle, and we were asked to pick off a few squares of toilet paper. I pulled off about nine, I think. Others took more and less. Then we were told that we had to provide one thing about ourselves for each square that we had. Oh my. So around we went. What was nice was listening to everybody try to come up with something about themselves – you could sort of tell that nobody was expecting this – and had anything prepared. I certainly didn’t.

I was slightly distracted by what stuttering has done to me, though. That is, prepare (and check for potential words I might stutter on) while others are going around the room sharing. Eventually it was my turn, and I was relaxed. I stuttered through my facts and didn’t mind. I said something like how it’s my second conference, I’m an engineer working in Saudi, I’ve been at my company for 11 years, I have three kids … other stuff that was pretty basic. Once that was done, we mingled, talking to each other about what we had heard during the toilet paper time.

When I was talking to a friend of mine after the conference, I mentioned this icebreaker exercise. And she said, “yeah, haven’t you ever done that before?” I guess the thing about stuttering (or maybe my career path, I suppose) is that no, I haven’t really been to a lot of conferences or workshops, period. And generally speaking at work we’re on a client site or project team, so we just get on with it. No time for office bonding per se.

Family sharing

I should probably have mentioned that after the NSA Conference, the trip to France and then a return to Saudi, I worked for a week and then … went on vacation again. It was the end of Ramadan and thus the Eid holidays. So we went as a family to Qatar. And yes, of course I stuttered there, but I’ll save that for later.

This year for the conference, my brother came along. He didn’t go to too many workshops, but it was nice having him around for lunches and dinners. I came to find out what I discovered before with my son — while my own brother acknowledges and knows and appreciates that I stutter, it’s still my deal at the end of the day. And unless he’s submersed in it (he’s not an SLP) there’s not going to be that strong connection.

And I shouldn’t expect that there would be.

That being said, I did take a strongly selfish approach to the week and talk about my stuttering with him as much as I could. Captive audience! You’re my brother, you’re obligated to listen!

So while that was good, it did take some time away from meeting new people at the conference. But since I rarely see my brother (being overseas and all that) I’ll take that compromise.

When I went home to see my parents for a few hours during my time home, I talked about the conference again with them. (Last year, when I went for the first time, their reaction was simply, “did you learn any techniques?”) This year, I pushed things a little more, and I talked a lot more. Selfish! (It’s my theme when I go stateside — it’s all about me). The more I talked to them, the more I think they learned. And I learned something very interesting, too. Not only do I have a cousin who stutters on my dad’s side, but my dad said that his own brother “stuttered a little bit.”

Why, that sounds like he stuttered, then! And was probably covert. And was probably pretty good at being covert. And as I learned during the conference, just further evidence that I was blessed with stuttering before I could even figure out what was going on.

I’m a little sad that I didn’t find out about my (biological) stuttering family sooner. It would have been interesting to talk to them as I was growing up. Just another reason why it’s important to be out there about this to family — they may not care on a day-to-day basis, but they will listen, and they will at least be very curious.

Back from Vacation

Just a quick post to say that I’m back to Saudi from the NSA Conference and then almost a week of vacation chasing the Tour de France. Last year I only chased the Tour for about 2 days. This time it was four full days followed up by a concert in London.

For the whole vacation, I spoke a lot more French than last year. This being related to meeting someone at the conference from Canada (the French-speaking part) and then when I was in France, having dinner with family friends of my traveling companion.

I even told one of the family friends that I stuttered! I knew the word for it because I learned it at the conference.

I won’t say it was all a success — I still hid from a speaking opportunity here and there. But overall it felt good to get out there and stutter away, happily saying and asking what I wanted to.

In the next few days I’ll post about my overall conference experience, comparisons to last year, workshop-by-workshop descriptions, and then a brief on France and a day in England for the concert.

A look back at trepediation

I wanted to look back and see how I was feeling a year ago at this time — going to my first conference. Thought I’d share a few posts. It’s also what really prompted me to get blogging about stuttering. This year I’m really excited — I’m going to see friends who I met last year and stayed in touch with, and my brother is even going to see what it’s all about.

I’m learning to laugh at stuttering a little more. It’s not that I didn’t before, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to because I never brought it up. But now that I’m more open about it, I actually tell people that yes, I’m going to a stuttering conference. Inevitably, they’ll say something like, “to learn how to stutter better?” And others think it’s all about getting help, “did you learn any techniques?”

Ha.

Ha.

No and no. But I suppose it’s up to me to stay open about this. It’s new to them. We know it’s complicated. It’s worth an explanation. I’ve just noted that you only have anybody’s attention for a short period, so you have to be rather concise — do you talk about acceptance, or do you talk about the philosophy of stuttering and that stuttering on what you want to say is better than not saying anything?

Here’s my first post regarding the conference from last year.

I know that most of them will stutter, and I know many others will be speech therapists and professionals. But it’s still intimidating.

And then the next day, still trying to talk myself into it:

Most of my stuttering life, I’ve shut out things like conferences and social meet-ups because I talk my way through what might happen, decide I don’t need it, and then that’s it. Like for this conference, because of that hard-wired response, it went like this …

And then I finally go ahead with it:

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence.

Thoughts on the detailed conference program Part 2

Some thoughts on Day 2 of the upcoming NSA Conference and the workshops now that the full program is out. I don’t think I’ll do days 3 and 4 as we’re now on top of the conference. Definitely misplaced this … but anyway.

Here’s what I’m interested in:

Stressful Life Events and Stuttering & the Development & Maintenance of Stuttering

I’ve been through a lot of these I think, and maybe I need to lend them a little more credence with regards to my stuttering. That being said, I’m also understanding my personal confidence cycle more and more, and what to expect after a life changing event.

However, research reveals that SLE (i.e., divorce, new move) increase the likelihood of the onset of stuttering (Guitar, 2006). This study investigated whether stressful life events of a person who stutters (PWS) have developed and/or maintained stuttering over one’s lifetime.

Next up:

Is Your Stuttering Really “Selective Vowel Aphonia”?*

This reminds me of last year’s Avoid Avoiding.

This workshop will demonstrate ways to dissolve the “brick walls” without resorting to struggle, force, or avoidance, as well as strategies to reduce your fear of speaking situations and to replace stuttering with easy, effortless, natural-sounding speech.

Since I still haven’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I thought that “Wait, YOU want to be an SLP? The Experiences and Challenges of SLPs who Stutter” would be a good workshop. I was intrigued by the idea of becoming an SLP at last year’s conference, but haven’t had a chance to learn more about what specifically the job could entail. I have very limited (almost no) experience interacting with SLPs. I don’t remember seeing something like this last year.

We will then discuss challenges and experiences that we and audience members 24 2015: Baltimore, Maryland have faced (grad students, SLPs), and explore new perspectives regarding how we can be assets to the field.

Lastly on Thursday I’m tempted to go to the Open Microphone (there are several throughout the conference, though). I had a pretty interesting time at this last year, even though it did scare me.

You can listen or participate, it’s all up to you! These sessions are an opportunity to communicate in a safe and supportive environment and in a small group setting.

Conference Program is out

The NSA Conference Program is out! I’m very excited about this. It’s available for download here.

They’ve also got an app (through a guide app) that’s got conference and program information in it. I downloaded it, and it’s brilliant. That’ll make it easier to keep up instead of having to shuffle through papers.

In the next day or two I want to go through the program and compare what is planned for this year vs. what was done (and what I wrote up) from last year. Thus, if you’re going for the first time, you have an idea of what it might be like.

Critical Stuttering Mass

Growing up, I knew one other person who stuttered. And I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuttering. He wasn’t as covert (as I tried to be). After that, I indirectly met one other much older person (once, for a few minutes) who stuttered. This all changed last year when I went to my first NSA Conference.

But as far as becoming more accepting of my stutter and reaching out to people, it didn’t happen until very recently. I’ve been trying to think of why. I see some people on Facebook who are very young and reaching out, and others who are much older and reaching out for the first time, surprised and overjoyed at the community’s response.

I think there’s a sort of “critical mass” effect that’s going on. When you’re covert, you deny stuttering at every level. It’s my problem. It’s my daily hell. It’s my limitation. It’s my challenge to overcome. I can do this on my own, and I don’t want to reach out to anybody. If I reach out, it’s admitting that it’s holding me back. It’s not! (Even though it is, mentally and maybe socially).

I think thanks to social media (and the King’s Speech, I suppose) it’s more out there. You can search online for a group, or if you insist on being covert, someone will pass something along to you eventually. If you start listening to enough small bits of information from various sources, it’ll eventually reach that critical mass. You’ll start to see that other people stutter. They make videos about it (even if you never watch them). They record podcasts (even if you never listen to them) and they write (even if you only skim a post here and there).

It took me a long time to reach a point where I could put even a few words out on this blog. But signing up for the NSA conference gave me something to be accountable to. And once I was there, the rest of the critical mass was formed — everything about stuttering was normal. If you think you’re alone stuttering, go to the conference and start talking to one person — you’ll exchange the exact same stuttering stories, and you’ll be laughing together for a long time.

I don’t know if I could have kept up with this blog if I hadn’t gone to the conference last year. It wouldn’t have lasted. I would have probably gone back into my shell, content to continue practicing my covert behaviors, and wondering what could have been if I had kept writing.

For people who are considering making the transition from covert to overt, know that there are a lot of people out there to support you. Facebook groups may only have a few thousand people in them, but I assure you there are many more lurking. For me life has gotten better now that I’m not dreading every single social or work interaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely improving.

Thoughts on the NSA Conference Workshops

As some of you may have seen, the NSA Conference Day at a Glance Calendar is out. I thought I’d take a quick look through it to see what might be interesting. Please note that the Conference Program isn’t out yet, but when it does come out, it’ll have details on the workshops. These are just my thoughts as a second-timer. I may of course change things up as the conference gets closer.

Wednesday, July 1

Icebreaker — Getting to know each other — I’m really curious what this is going to be all about. Kind of like an open session so that we’re forced to meet other people? I’m hoping so. I met a bunch of people last year in the First-Timer’s workshop and then weeks after the conference started wondering how I could meet people at my second conference without such a vehicle.

Understanding the Medical Treatments of Stuttering (Maguire) — One of the big things I don’t talk about on this blog is treatment. That’s mostly because I don’t go to an SLP here in the Kingdom. And even when I was stateside, I wasn’t seeing one either. I’m thinking more about visiting one whenever we move back just to expand my knowledge and see what I can learn as far as techniques and practice.

Genetics in Stuttering (Drayna) — Kind of the same as above — I have a cousin who stutters, and I have three kids. Definitely want to know what the latest is on this.

Thursday, July 2

Stressful Life Events and Stuttering (Dits) — Every few years I have one of these — big move, job change, new office, etc., I’ve only recently been stepping back and seeing how my speech is affected. For example, I know that a new job will result in more anxiety and stuttering, but it’ll wear off and I’ll get more comfortable after a few months.

The 4 Exchanges: What You Have to Trade-in to Win (D Mitchell) — I want to read more about this.

Wait, You want to be an SLP? (Susskind/Markel) — Yes, this is something I’ve been thinking about — and only because I went to my first NSA Conference last year!

Open Microphone (Finstad) — I went to this last year and forced myself to get up and talk. It was a great experience. I’m not sure what I’m more interested in — seeing how my own speech is, or hearing what others have to say. Either way, I’d like to attend at least one open microphone.

Friday, July 3

Stuttering Chef (Molt) — I want to read more about this.

General Session: Professionals Who Inspire! — as I move through my company, things like this are definitely a big help. I need to be reminded occasionally that my stuttering isn’t going to get in my way. If anything does get in my way, it’s my attitude about stuttering.

At 1 p.m., there are a few that look really good — Career Best Practices for PWS (Schuff/Anderson) and The Power of Positive Psychology (Wade). I made friends last year, and what we did was split up and go to different workshops. Then we’d get back together and talk about them. So I hope to do the same this year.

Fluency vs Acceptance (Gore) — As someone who’s gone from trying to be fluent to someone who’s accepted my stuttering (most of the time) I’m interested to see what else is said on this.

Saturday, July 4

Achieving and Maintaining the “Fluency State” (Colombano) — similar to the above.

General Session: Leana Wen

Factors to Consider when choosing an SLP (Plexico/Molt) — As I said before, I’m thinking about seeing an SLP after moving back to the States. So I’d like to hear what is said on this. I remember last year hearing that the SLP makes more of a difference than anything else when it comes to the effectiveness of therapy.

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