It was with no trepidation at all that I attended the 2011 three day Friends: The National Association for Young People Who Stutter conference in Washington, DC last July with 10 of my Montclair State University speech and language pathology student clinicians.  The hard part was getting the students to take advantage of the incredible Friends Graduate Student Training Program.  It was an opportunity to have hands on experience with young people who stutter and their families, an opportunity of learning from and meeting leaders in the field of fluency disorders, and the opportunity to spend three days immersed in an atmosphere of caring, support, and friendship.  After all, in order to attend, they would miss a day of clinical practicum, had to leave school in the middle of preparation for summer midterms, and, since most of them have severely limited resources, even the amazingly reduced cost for such an experience was daunting!

Fortunately, being high achieving, driven students they did take advantage of the opportunity, pooled their resources and embarked on what some of them described as a life altering experience.  Little did they know that they would reach both ends of the emotional spectrum in that brief period of time.  It was delightful to see them frequently doubled over in laughter shared with exuberant children who stutter sharing playful activities, and intently engrossed in conversation with teens telling stories of the daily experiences of life.  Conversely, it was intensely touching to see them brought to tears by the moving testaments of struggle and tenacity that so often characterizes the spirit of children and teens who stutter and the families that share their struggles and successes.

Marc Vetri, celebrity chef, and David Seidler, academy award winning screenplay writer of The Kings Speech, were an inspirational surprise for the students.  Their witty, moving keynote speeches and question and answer sessions powerfully included their own experiences as people who stutter and the achievements of success and served as a testament to the strength of character that allows anyone and all who struggles with communication difficulties to prosper.  My students were awed by having the chance to attend workshops with leaders in the field such as Patricia Zebrowski and Joseph Donaher, to sit in on parent roundtable discussions, to enjoy a Family Night Party with all attendees, and participate in the closing ceremonies.

As a clinical supervisor and the adjunct professor of the fluency disorders class at MSU it warms my heart to still hear those ten students talk about their experiences at the Friends conference.  They have a level of awareness and expertise that sets them apart from other, equally competent in every other capacity, student clinicians.  I credit that memorable weekend in Washington for encouraging those students to actively ask for increased opportunities to work with people who stutter even though it usually means adding extra work and time onto their already packed academic schedules.  They’ve mentored other students and have set an example of excellence in treatment that is readily shared with lesser experienced student clinicians.

The Friends conference and Friends Graduate Student Training Program is an opportunity that should not be missed and will be remembered always by both SLPs and student clinicians.

Diane Polledri, MA, CCC-SLP

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