The 15th BSA National Conference took place on 31st August - 2nd September at the University of Lincoln. Led by Bob Adams, the Doncaster Stammering Association put together a successful weekend of fun, music and art. Here, attendees share their experiences, but first, co-organiser Hilary Liddle explains the conference's theme. You can also watch a short video.
This year, for the first time, the conference had a strong emphasis on using the arts to explore the experience of stammering; this element was funded by Arts Council England. Children, young people and adults attending had the opportunity to participate in professionally-run music, visual arts and digital imaging workshops. Specialist speech and language therapists (SLTs) supported the children in their workshops. To kick-start the weekend's proceedings, there was a mass songwriting session in the auditorium, with delegates penning a stammering awareness song.
The music and artwork produced at the conference was of a very high standard, and the professional artists who facilitated the workshops are putting the finishing touches to the work, which will be shown in a groundbreaking exhibition to be launched on 22nd October 2012 (International Stammering Awareness Day) at The Point in Doncaster. Our sincere thanks go to Arts Council England for their generous funding of the workshops and exhibition.
Expression through creativity
Lincoln 2012 was my first experience of a BSA conference. Congratulations to the Doncaster group for putting together a great weekend, from their impressive sound and light display in the introductory session, to an excellent programme of talks and activities. The main problem was choosing which to attend. I found myself thinking, 'I want to do EVERYTHING - I wish I was here for a week!' I participated in several rewarding workshops, including 'Women living with stammering' (being a minority within a minority in the stammering community, this was an opportunity for women to talk openly and honestly about the specific concerns and issues we face), Bob Adams' entertaining talk on public speaking (which included examples of how not to do it!), and a relaxing session on Mindfulness.
As a creative person, I enjoyed exploring stammering through the arts by participating in some interesting craft activities. These included using decoupage techniques to decorate wooden letters of the alphabet and making petals with wire, which we then put together with other materials to produce colourful, exotic-looking flowers. Children at the conference also made some impressive work in their workshops, decorating treasure chests and Russian dolls. The art sessions were great fun and everyone who took part enjoyed the opportunity to express their creativity in their own unique way.
"I found myself thinking, 'I want to do EVERYTHING - I wish I was here for a week!'"
Above all, for a person who stammers, the conference provided a safe zone where you could be yourself and spend time in the company of those who understood and appreciated you and the difficulties you face. I was inspired and encouraged by so many amazing and courageous people and it was great to be able to relax and experience stammering as 'normal' in a supportive and friendly environment. For me, the weekend was a very special experience. If you have never attended a conference before and have previously felt hesitant about booking, do give it a try. I'm already looking forward to the next one!
Community and new friends
I've had a stammer since childhood and despite going through a number of different rounds of therapy, I have never been successful at conquering it. I've been aware of the BSA for many years but have tended to go it alone, trying to figure out my own ways to 'get by'.
My first visit to a BSA conference was long overdue (by around two decades if truth be told). Initially I was a little anxious, not having been to such an event before, but I had nothing to worry about; everyone was very welcoming. Part of my going was connected to my drive to finally become more accepting of my voice. I feel as if I'd been fighting with it for many years. I was very interested to see that acceptance was one of the issues that people were talking about. Plus, it was great to see so many people with the attitude: 'okay, I stammer; it's a part of who I am and that's okay'.
One really interesting session was by Claire Rowland, who spoke about a tool to help us learn more about certain speaking situations; my own fluency is very dependent upon situations. I came away thinking about the differences between fears relating to speaking and fears relating to situations. I also attended Rachel Everard and Carolyn Cheasman's session 'Embrace your demons and follow your heart', and I'm now looking forward to their course at City Lit – my first foray back into speech therapy for 8 years.
I can now clearly see that engagement with a community such as the BSA can have a really beneficial effect. I for one felt less alone at the end of the conference than I did at the start. Plus, I think I might have made a couple of friends, which is always a good thing.
Music and learning
The BSA conference was absolutely fantastic. It was amazing to be surrounded by others who stammered for a few days. The social aspect was brilliant; it's not too often that you meet another stammerer, so it gave a chance for us all to see what we look like from an outside perspective, helping us to think, 'I don't look weird'- a great confidence boost. There were some brilliant speeches too which really opened my eyes. George Campbell's keynote speech raised some valid points which I hope people will act upon.
The workshops were a combination of fun and learning, a chance to talk to one another while learning a new skill or even take up a new hobby. In the music workshop for example, we all talked as we learnt the names of different drums and how they were played, and a song was created in the process too! I thought the open mic at the end was great. It provided a chance for us to do something we may never have done in our lives - talk in front of an audience of people - whether it was saying something large or little; truly brilliant. Cannot wait for next year!
This was my second conference, but the first I'd been to alone. I was a little nervous about this but was welcomed very warmly. Every workshop I went to was interesting and thought-provoking but my particular favourites were Paul Brocklehurst's 'Fluency or accuracy: deciding which to go for', and Ray Worster's 'Where can the covert stammerer hide; or should they?'. This in particular offered food for thought, as I would certainly class myself as covert.
The session I enjoyed most was 'Digital imaging' with photographer James Mulkeen, who asked us to express our thoughts and feelings about stammering through photography. James was very supportive and gave us free rein over the images we produced. We also had the opportunity to have a go with professional photography equipment, which was great fun! I very much hope to go and see the work that our group produced in the exhibition.
The main thing I got out of the weekend though was just having the opportunity to meet others who stammered from across the country. It was great to meet up with people I met at last year's conference, and I also made some new friends who I hope I'll keep in touch with. It's lovely to know that if I do need a little support or a friend to talk to, there are so many great people I can turn to.
Stepping out of comfort zones
Being one of the first to arrive on the Friday afternoon, I watched as more and more people arrived, and could feel myself becoming more and more nervous around so many new faces. These were irrational fears - after all, everyone there either stammered or knew someone who stammered. It wasn't until after the opening session that I started to become comfortable with my new surroundings and venture out of my comfort zone.
The conference gave me an insight into what I was missing by holding myself back due to my stammer. Every single person I spoke to had so much time for one another, so much respect and by rarely entering into similar social situations, I hadn't experienced this before. In some ways I guess you could say that it made me feel like a fluent person.
"The conference gave me an insight into what I was missing by holding myself back due to my stammer."
It taught me more than I could imagine and showed me how much damage I was doing to myself. It's going to be a long journey but I wear the green wristband we were given every day as a reminder of what we can all do with a little bit of support. As a result of this, I'm now more comfortable with my stammer and look forward to my next speaking situation.
What a great experience! It brought together people from all walks of life and it felt liberating to be able to speak about my stammer in a supportive environment.
I found a talk by researchers from Oxford University particularly interesting, covering findings from their investigations into the areas of the brain involved in stammering (see Using the brain to understand stammering). I also made time for a ukulele class, which I found much easier to pick up than guitar and so enjoyable that I bought a ukulele at the end!
Overall, the conference was a good opportunity to reflect upon my stammer, and it removed some of the isolation that I sometimes feel. It has encouraged me to become more active in raising awareness of stammering and more involved in my local self-help group. See you next year!
Being a covert stammerer, with a family history of stammering, enabled me to pursue my interests in this field. I am now three months into my first job as an SLT and attending the BSA conference was a wonderful opportunity to gain further knowledge, understanding and insight into stammering. I thoroughly enjoyed the informative, light-hearted and inspirational workshops. It was especially good to see so many people have an incredibly positive attitude towards their stammer and seeing their self-confidence and determination shine through their faces was highly motivating and uplifting.
One quote that stood out for me was from George Campbell's speech: 'You may be within the 1% of the world's population of adults who stammer, but you are also within the 100% of adults who experience social anxiety', thus making me realise that it is part of a natural response to public speaking.
I found William Parry's workshop 'New breakthroughs in beating stammering blocks' fascinating and I was deeply engaged in his research on the Valsalva Manoeuvre in overcoming blocks. It demonstrated that most people who stammer have the inherent ability to speak fluently and that the problem is a physiological interference with that ability. He explained this as being the neurological failure to program the larynx to phonate (produce) vowel sounds in specific words/syllables. Consequently, the key is not to control one's speech, but to understand and control the physiological forces ('fight-or-flight' response) that interfere with speech. (This may be helped by inhaling through the nose using the diaphragm, relaxing the abdomen and letting the air flow whilst focusing on the vowel sound). This is a highly innovative work that could have the potential to guide future therapy.
Overall, I had a great experience; it was wonderful to engage with such inspirational people, participate in the workshops, socialise and relax in the bar in the evenings, sharing experiences. I'd recommend the conference to all my colleagues with an interest in the complex field of stammering. Well done for putting together a fantastic event!
Keynote speaker George Campbell: 'Why push against an open door?'
It was a great honour to present the keynote speech and I'd like to thank Bob and the Doncaster group for the opportunity. The main point of my talk was that we don't have to wait for fluency in order to start living. If we wait for stammering to 'stop' before we 'start', we could be waiting for the rest of our lives. The door of opportunity for openly stammering people is open. Too often, we are the ones holding ourselves back.
It's not about gaining the ability to speak; it's about getting the courage to live. Just look at the fantastic example of the attendees. They didn't wait for the magic wand of fluency in order to achieve their goals. They seized the opportunity with courage.
The narrative where life was 'bad' but is now 'great' after 'recovery' is simplistic fodder for newspapers. Even when my stammer was at its worst I was still a successful person who enjoyed life. The person you are today is already enough. Life isn't about fluency, it's about taking opportunities. Why push against an open door?
Stammering Support Centre (SSC) Presentations
Claire Rowland, SLT, presented a session on using a new situation radar method being trialled at the SSC. The method can support people who stammer to explore the reasons for variability in speaking anxiety across different situations and guide therapy targets. Contact Claire at email@example.com if you'd like to hear more about this project as it progresses.
Jo Kitchen, SLT, and Michael Turner delivered a presentation about the training for reception staff that Jo has been delivering with Michael and Penny Palin. The session included an overview of the training package and information about outcomes. If anyone would like to find out more about the training or seek support to deliver this in their area, please contact Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Autumn 2012 issue of 'Speaking Out', pages 6-9