How Attending A Stuttering Conference Changed My Life
by Alexandra Hewitt

The National Stuttering Association is no-joke when it comes to advocating for stuttering. This past conference was their 36th one and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.

I had no idea the National Stuttering Association was even a thing until a few months prior. I had been researching stuttering organizations in my apartment in Florida to try and gain knowledge about advocating for my stutter. I had spent so many years having my stutter hold me back from speaking and I finally was at the point where I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I stutter. I didn’t want to be ashamed of something that made me unique. When I saw the National Stuttering Association was about to be holding their next conference in July, I knew I had to go. As Rachel Berry once said in the TV show Glee, “being apart of something special makes you special, right?” I wanted to be a part of something special and had a gut feeling this conference would make my heart feel whole. I immediately signed up to go.

However, attending the 36th National Stuttering Association conference wasn’t the only thing I did. When I saw that the conference featured workshops from people who stutter, speech-language pathologists, and more, I knew I wanted to dip my feet into the water and try something new. Growing up, I have always been so passionate about theater. It has morphed me into the person I am and gave me so much confidence. With people who stutter just like myself, we need all of the confidence we can get. I figured it was an interesting idea so I (impulsively) applied to do a workshop titled “Theater & Stuttering”.

And they loved it. I was chosen to do a workshop at a national conference at just twenty-one years old.

I could not believe that all of this was happening. Of course, my anxiety kept replaying the fact it was happening way too frequently. However, I tried to brush off those nerves and kept soaking in the joy of soon being around people just like me. When my mom and I first entered the hotel, we were greeted by an NSA chapter leader and his wife. I knew immediately that this was going to be a welcoming and safe environment. After years of feeling ridiculed and insecure about my stutter, I knew this was the place for me to be.

The morning of my workshop, my mom and I decided to check out some other workshops happening that day. The first one we attended was about advocating for your stutter. As soon as one of the speakers opened her mouth and started to stutter, I teared up. It felt so heartwarming to see someone stutter right in front of me instead of being the only person around who does so. In this workshop, we discussed several outlets to get awareness for stuttering out there. I brought up the point how in the tv show Glee, one of the characters faked a stutter to get people to leave her alone. She first used it as a way to get out of a presentation and then used it for even more selfish reasons. When describing this situation, I started to cry because I didn’t realize how much I sunk these feelings down. Growing up, that storyline and The King’s Speech were the only media outlets “advocating” for stuttering. All I saw was a character who selfishly faked a stutter and a movie that gets speech therapy completely wrong. Such greatrepresentation, right?! I thanked the presenter at the end of the workshop for being so open about her stutter and left smiling with happy tears in my eyes.

At 1:15 pm that day, my own workshop began. The children started to pile into the room as well as my volunteers and I felt a wave of relief come over me. As an early childhood education major, this workshop was my first ever lesson plan being brought to life and the anxiety over feeling like a failure was killing me inside. I had been so anxious and nervous for months about this workshop and it was better than I could’ve ever imagined. The workshop was filled with questions, games, and enthusiasm from the 20 or so children in the room. They were so passionate that they wanted to change the rules of the one game we did and I went along with the new idea immediately. As the workshop ended and I hugged my tearful mom, I started to cry as well. I cried a lot that day because I was genuinely so happy. Everything was just getting better and better as the conference was going on (even though the hotel’s power had gone out). The frozen cocktails at the pool bar helped as well.

The next day at the 36th National Stuttering Association conference was full of meeting people. To get out of my comfort zone, I attended a workshop without my mom by my side and I was so thankful I did. At the “Hot Topics for Young Adults” workshop, I got to meet several young adults in my age group and discuss issues that young people who stutter face (ex: dating, mental health issues, et cetera). After that workshop, I hung out with a group of wonderful individuals and kept meeting more and more young adults all day. Even though my brother is a person who stutters, he is not as emotionally invested in his stutter like I am about mine. I always felt so alone with my stutter, but meeting these people made me feel seen. I finally felt included after I’ve lived in a world of what felt like exclusion because of my stutter.

When reflecting on the 36th National Stuttering Association conference, the one word I can describe my feelings is “whole”. After years of feeling less than because of my stutter, my heart finally feels whole with my insecurities being pushed to the side. After years of feeling alone because of my stutter, I finally met a “stamily” (definition: a family of people who stutter) and my heart finally feels whole because of these great individuals.

If you are a person who stutters or you know someone who stutters, please research the National Stuttering Association. If I had learned about this association during my more-than-a-decade run of speech therapy, I feel like I would have felt whole a lot sooner. However, I’m glad I found this association and the conference they hold when I did. I feel like a better individual because I attended this conference. I feel like I can love my stutter more because I attended this conference.

To the National Stuttering Association, thank you. I am eternally grateful for the happiness you bring to me and other people who stutter.

This piece originally appeared on Medium.com.

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