So What's It Like? Speaking at CASANA's National Conference

CASANA, also known as the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America, is the only non-profit exclusively dedicated to combating Childhood Apraxia. They are a small, but strong and ever-growing non-profit organization.

They have hosted annual conferences in years past across the nation, but I had never attended until this past weekend. 

From July 6th through July 8th, I was in the beautiful Paradise Point, San Diego attending the CASANA National Conference where there were around 300 attendees. There were people from all over-Canada, Brazil, and 37 different states.

Meeting people of all ages from all over with the same common ground was simultaneously overwhelming and beautiful.

But, I was not only at this conference to attend. I came to this conference to speak. I promise I will blog later about the WHOLE weekend, but I'd like to personally share my experience speaking at such a venue.

My mom and I had applied to be speakers and lead a 90 minute session, "Achieving with Apraxia," where we would openly discuss my journey overcoming this disorder in the nineties and the limited information at the time. 

As much as the session was about my personal journey, this session was for and about the families in attendance. I knew from the very beginning that my journey was merely an example-almost a base for what lessons I wanted the parents to take away. That sharing my journey was a way for parents and family members to understand potentially what their own children were going through.

The presentation was NOT about me, it was about THEM.

If that meant sharing personal details of my Apraxia Journey, even the bullying and rude crushes, then so be it. If my journey can be utilized for others to gain perspective about their own child, then my job is done.

The week of the conference I learned my session was sold-out with 62 people registered. I was nervous of course, as anyone would be. 62 people I am telling basically my whole life and teaching them what I considered the most pivotal concepts raising a child with Apraxia.

I had spent the previous evening at the Opening Reception and meeting new people from around the country who also were passionate about Apraxia. Various people had mentioned they read my blog and, to be frank, I forgot that real people are out there reading what I had to say. 
As great as it was meeting others and hearing their Apraxia Journeys, I knew that my session the next day just HAD to help them and their kids. Their kids can't communicate what they want their parents to know, but I had the opportunity to do just that!

On the day of my presentation, which was at 10AM-11:30AM on Friday, July 7th, I couldn't eat. I had chugged two coffees and my heart was racing. My mom was calm, I was trying to be calm, and my other friends and family (my dad, two aunts, and my college BFF Michelle from Atlanta, GA) basically kept conversation to a minimum as I was in my "zone." They gave warm wishes and then stepped back. 

My dad though wore a tie, in particular, a Winnie the Pooh tie. This tie was the first gift I ever bought him as a kid with my own money, so it was sweet seeing him wear it. Of course, just before going into the room, he puts on this neon blue shirt with my face blown up. Mortified and flattered, I quickly kicked my dad to the back of the room out of fear I'd get distracted with my face on his torso. (Love you Dad!)

Anyways, my Mom and I entered the room, dropped off our stuff, and I plugged in my phone to play the Beach Boys Pandora Station to make it feel like I was on vacation. It helps A LOT.

As people slowly began to enter, I went around the room. I talked to the attendees, about their kids, and their flights. One couple flew into Vegas then drove to San Diego-they definitely knew how to prep for a long conference weekend! Another woman I met had the sweetest baby ever named Beckham, I believe 7 months old, and he was beyond adorable. 

When it was time to start, Lincoln on the CASANA Board of Directors, also with a daughter my age who had Apraxia, introduced us. He just seemed like an old family friend honestly! He kept the introduction brief and welcoming; "Here's Alyson who blogs on 'Girl With A Funny Accent' and her mom, Dena Taylor."

Short, simple, and FUN! We began and for the next hour and a half we had people crying, laughing, and genuinely interested. A few minutes in, I noticed not only did we have the 62 people sitting; there were around 5 people on the floor in the back and another 10 standing! We cracked jokes, asked each other questions and just had plain and simple fun! Being real, being honest, being funny, and being serious-it was the most enjoyable experience of my life. I told them EVERYTHING I could. Some questions I had to recall what the younger Alyson thought, how she felt-frankly I still haven't forgotten it.

The best question though, and what I'd like to share with those reading that may not have been able to attend, was towards the end where a woman asked, "So what would you like us parents and family members to take away or keep in mind?"

I smiled and chuckled, turned around to grab my easel with my poster board of Puzzle Bob. 

Puzzle Bob had different puzzle pieces varying from "Apraxia," but also pieces that said other qualities, "Swimming," "Reading Books," and the best puzzle piece of them all- "DREAMS."

I pointed at my friend Puzzle Bob again and answered, "This. This is what I want every single person to take away and what every child with Apraxia wants to say. We want you all to see our dreams, our hobbies, and our strengths. Not our Apraxia." 

Puzzle Bob seemed to be quite the hit during the day; the next two sessions I went to after had briefly mentioned him. The concept just resonated with everyone.

After our session, I spoke to various people (those that did attend the session and even those that did not) throughout the entire weekend. Apparently Puzzle Bob and my sense of humor seemed to buzz around the conference. People were surprised that it was my first real time public speaking at this sort of venue, to be frank I was surprised that people seemed to enjoy it so much. 

I was expecting the session to be good, I was hoping to just impact 1 family in a positive, inspirational way. Knowing though, that I did so much more than just impact 1 family and knowing that my journey and my essential concepts resonated with so many, I am still trying to process. I'm still completely overwhelmed. 

My mom keeps reminding me to be proud of myself, but that is something I need to personally improve on. I am only proud, actually more happy, that I helped several people that I otherwise wouldn't have. I'm happy and proud that I helped others. I helped those consumed with technical information, better understand where their children are coming from. I helped them in a way that no one else could; I made myself open and vulnerable this weekend to help give these families and their children something that can't be found at speech therapy, at a doctor's office, nor out of a textbook.

I gave them insight, I gave them a different perspective, and I gave them perhaps the greatest gift of all-hope for their child. 

Now, I must wonder though, how can I possibly give more of this. The only way I know how is to further volunteer and participate with CASANA, further blog, and further share my story. All I know though, is I MUST do more.