As one can imagine, joining the military and deploying to Iraq on three different occasions has had a profound impact on my life that I oftentimes have trouble putting into words.
The same can be said for joining the National Stuttering Association (NSA) followed by my attendance at the last three annual conferences, the most recent being last week’s conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This year’s conference featured inspiring keynotes from fellow stutterers Katherine Preston, author of Out with It, and NFL cornerback Trumaine McBride of the New York Giants.
Additionally, Morgan Lott previewed his new film, “This is Stuttering.”
It’s a four day conference. For any other group, it would likely be just two days, but I’m so thankful to be able to spend that extra time with so many amazing people.
Until recently, I referred to my fellow NSA members as my “stuttering” friends, which was a mistake on my part. They are awesome friends with whom I share a special bond who just happen to stutter.
My friend, Daniele, from Canada.
My friend, Christine, from Indiana.
I’m sure by the end of the National Pickling Convention that most people are just ready to go home, but it’s not like that with us. We truly hate saying goodbye.
I have a circle of friends there who inspire and motivate me throughout the year, and each year, that circle grows.
Make no mistake about it; the convention is not a pity party. On the contrary, it’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance and empowerment.
Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been a “suck it up and drive on” kind of guy, but by attending the NSA conferences, my eyes have opened up to see the challenges that many of my brothers and sisters face each and every day.
I’m always amazed at the attendees who assert to have never met another person who stutters prior to attending a conference. Imagine the shock and awe.
Growing up, I knew two other kids who stuttered, not to mention my brother and Bo Jackson.
Although I’d met countless stutterers throughout the years, I, too, was in shock and awe when I attended my first conference in Ft. Worth in 2011. Can you imagine a conference where close to 850 attendees talked like me?
Well, I need to be a little clearer about that. None of them talked like me. You see, a person’s stutter is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, as no two are alike.
Only 1% of the population stutters, so there’s a chance that I am the only one that some of you know and you might be saying to yourself that it’s not much of an affliction. Well, for me, at this point in my life, it’s not that big of a deal, although I still face many challenges. For others, however, it remains a very big deal.
Imagine not being able to say a loved one’s name.
Imagine not being able to order what you want at a restaurant.
We know that clear and concise communication is essential in most lines of work, so imagine being a super intelligent person and not being able to get your words out in an articulate manner.
For some of you, that’s hard to imagine.
Some stutter, stumble, or stammer on every word, whereas others speak fluently for two minutes straight and then get “stuck” for the next solid minute.
It’s not always a pretty sight.
Some close their eyes, stick out their tongue, or make seemingly exaggerated facial expressions, while others slobber and punch themselves in the leg trying to get the words to flow.
When I was in junior high school, I went through a phase where I stuttered so badly I had to literally beat the words out of myself. Oftentimes, I’d have bruises on my right hip and upper thigh. When having to read aloud during class, I’d often beat the underside of the desk. It was all good until I started beating my friends on their arms and shoulders during conversation.
My friends shied away from me and I really can’t blame them. Who wants to get beat up during a friendly conversation?
It’s tough being a stuttering kid.
In fact, it’s tough being a person who stutters, period, which is why the NSA is so vital.
The NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.
The NSA and its members help to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate from Arizona.
Next year’s conference will be held from July 2-6 in Washington DC.
I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the year, but I’m here to tell you that the convention is always the highlight of my year. It blows me away each time. If you stutter, I highly encourage you and your family members to attend.
Speech-language pathologists are also highly encouraged to attend. Not only is it beneficial from a personal stand point, but it also qualifies as continuing education.
The beautiful and “normal” Marilyn Munster lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Frankenstein, two vampires, and a werewolf, and she was the person who was considered odd by the rest of her family. The same can be said for fluent speakers who attend the NSA conference, but just like Marilyn, we welcome them in and treat them like family.
Please join us in 2014. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll leave there a different person.
The possibilities are endless.
Find out more information about the National Stuttering Association at http://www.westutter.org.