From the land of Lincoln, all the way to see Lincoln!

I just returned from my first-ever National Stuttering Association conference, held this year in Washington, DC over the 4th of July weekend. Stringing together enthusiastic adjectives, “incredible,” “amazing,” “inspirational,” “phenomenal,” would not begin to describe the experience. So many conversations, fits of laughter, experiences, tears, memories, and more.

Rather than try to describe and explain everything, I’ve picked out a few experiential themes to share. I can’t say that these were the best or most interesting, because no one part was the best. But I am very grateful for these experiences.

Passionate SLPs

The SLP community is a small one, and the stuttering SLP community even more so. It has been said that SLPs who specialize in stuttering are a “unique” bunch, so it’s not often I get the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with fellow professionals who share my interests.

NSA was a wonderful week of meeting and conversing late into the night with passionate, excited, driven SLPs. I talked to grad students, professors, researchers, and “regular” practitioners like myself. A definite highlight for me was discussing current research projects with stuttering scientists and getting deep into principles and philosophies of stuttering and stuttering treatment. I even found a few fellow ACT-stuttering enthusiasts, which is a niche within a niche within a niche.

I am so thankful to be part of a wonderful professional and social community that has found a way to truly enrich people’s lives through science and research.

Group photo of NSA members in NIH research building

Visiting the NIH labs with Dr. Dennis Drayna. Where the stuttering science happens!

The Greatest Generation

I was welcomed pretty readily into the “almost-30-somethings” group and had a wonderful time making new friends and socializing late into the night with people pretty similar to myself. What I didn’t expect was to have such lovely discussions with so many of the founding pillars of the stuttering community.

On Thursday afternoon, Judith Eckhardt, who I had never met, came right up to me and wrapped me in a hug. “It is so so nice to finally see you!” she said. She and Jim McClure were once the leaders of the stuttering community in Chicago, and have both since retired to the southwest part of the country. I attended Judith’s workshop later that week, where I listened to Fred Murray share his experiences. I had an exciting discussion with Keith Boss, chair of the International Stuttering Association, about using online media for international stuttering outreach.

Photo of Brandy, Katie, Jim, and Judith

Brandy, Katie, Jim, and J-j-judith!

As someone new to the NSA, it was humbling and inspiring to meet these veterans of our community, who were impacting others and changing the narrative of “fluency first” before I was even born. Not only are their stories incredible, but they were each so encouraging of me as an individual and member of the next generation. We have an incredible legacy to carry on, but have all the blessing and support to do it.

New Friends

Sketchnote of "It wasn't perfect, but I did it"

A sketchnoted quote from a new friend.

I knew full well going into this that I was going to meet a lot of new people and make new friends, but the number and quality was definitely more than I expected and sometimes overwhelming at times! I arrived at the hotel on Tuesday, and by Thursday decided that I had already made so many awesome new friends that I would just have to stop meeting people, because I was simply overwhelmed. But it never ended. As late as Saturday at midnight, I was being introduced to new people and having amazing in-depth conversations about stuttering, life, and how to make a difference.

It was also very cool to meet “Internet friends” from Reddit, Twitter, or Facebook that I’d interacted with for months prior. I’m no stranger to making the Internet-IRL connection (obviously…), but it’s always a pleasure to be able to have a half-hour chat with someone after being limited to 140 characters for so long.

Better Friends

Katie and Sharon at Lincoln Memorial

Sweating it out on the National Mall with Sharon. Ridiculous photo filter applied to hide our shine.

Perhaps somewhat unusual for a first-timer, I arrived at the conference already knowing a decent number of people, thanks to ASHA being in Chicago this past November. I shared a room with Brandy and Sharon from our Chicago chapter. As overwhelmed I was by all the new friends I was making, I was increasingly comforted and encouraged by how my current friends became new actual best friends. We went through the first-timers experience together, processing our experiences together, and talking about our plans, goals, and passions for next year. It’s tough to leave the conference, but having these special people back in Chicago makes a huge difference.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any. These few reflections were just a handful of somewhat-relatable thoughts, but there is so much swirling around about what happened and what will happen going forward that defies language. Suffice to say, #NSAinDC14 was pretty cool.

And even though it was only our first time, I can say with supreme confidence that since you are all coming to our town next year…you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Group photo of NSA members from Chicago wearing Chicago shirts

See you next year!