AIS alumnus Aman Kumar shares his experience at the recent NSA conference:
My experience at the National Stuttering Association conference was singularly transformative, and for stutterers and fluent speakers alike who may have opportunity to attend in future I would simply say: Go. Go for the experience of meeting over a thousand people who speak differently than the rest of society — and differently than each other. Go for the exposure to a diverse set of complex research tackling an equally diverse and complex disorder. Go for the emotion of a group of people being told that they are not alone. Go watch mothers apologize to their children for previously demanding they hurry up, and then watch as the children turn around and forgive their parents. Go for the catharsis and the bravery of it all.
For any human being — fluent, dysfluent, and in between — these are enormously powerful and lasting memories.
Much of my own time at the conference, while not struck by its sheer intensity, was spent in thoughts wandering to the late and beloved Catherine Montgomery, founder of the American Institute of Stuttering. At first blush this may seem coincidental; however, there are three uncommon similarities between the NSA and AIS.
1) Both organizations reflect the ultimate in human compassion. The NSA and AIS are groups of dedicated people uniquely driven towards liberating others from the jail of their own voices and their own psychologies. Their respective ecosystems of researchers, therapists, adults and teens are almost universally empathic and considerate. The two organizations are completely and unilaterally focused on helping their constituents and the wider stuttering community — and in doing so engendering a privileged and special kind of compassion for the rest of humanity.
2) Both organizations offer transformative and transcendent experiences. For those who have attended both an AIS intensive session and an NSA conference, one’s first experience of “conducting stuttering surveys in a park” is not very different to “delivering an open microphone at a workshop.” One neither forgets one’s original AIS intensive nor one’s first NSA conference. The skills of self-awareness, courage, and vulnerability required to draw the most out of each experience are common to both.
3) Both groups inspire passionate and dedicated memberships. Catherine herself encouraged me to attend a conference; she beamed with pride as AIS veteran Sam Gennuso announced some years ago that she was going to present at NSA. Among AIS regulars there is a vibrant and enthusiastic cohort that regularly attends the annual NSA gathering. And during the NSA conference itself there is an equally-vibrant contingent of Catherine’s Fan Club. Even for those who have never had the privilege of meeting Catherine herself, this is a clear and present reminder that her memory and her vision — manifest in AIS itself — continues to thrive.
Amidst the raw joy and celebration of the conference — one thousand stutterers out of 60 million, all helping each other find a voice — and the exuberance and accolades due The King’s Speech, one element has always remained personally deeply bittersweet.
In some ways, it felt cosmically wrong and unfair that Catherine Montgomery never lived to see the fruits of her labor. She was never able to watch The King’s Speech, its resultant burst of media attention directed at stutterers worldwide, nor the plethora of stutterers everywhere coming out of hiding. It was an injustice at the highest levels.
Yet the NSA conference somehow eased that. For the religious, I would like to believe that she was here, somehow understanding and smiling as screenwriter David Seidler congratulated stutterers worldwide. I want to believe that, in those brief days of the conference, she was exulting in the happiness and sense of belonging of stutterers everywhere — the happiness and belonging that she herself had played such an integral part in creating.
Aman writes for Psychology Today on his blog Words Fail Me.