The Oxford Dysfluency Conference: learning from researchers across the globe

Last week researchers from around the world came together for the 12th Oxford Dysfluency Conference, which for the first time took place online. Over two days, more than 300 delegates were able to immerse themselves in the wealth of research that is taking place internationally and hear from a host of eminent academics in the field.

Typically, the conference takes place at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, however the current pandemic meant that it had to be moved online. Delegates were attending from over 40 countries and therefore from a variety of time zones! Our Trustee and award-winning journalist, Samira Ahmed, was among those welcoming delegates to the conference; recognising the enduring commitment to research activity while managing the challenges brought about by the current COVID-19 situation. Grace, who has been an advocate of stammering research amongst the ASC Youth Panel, spoke about her enthusiasm for further insight into stammering and the potential difference research can make to the lives of children and young people who stammer.

Grace speaking during the welcome speech

Over the course of the conference, delegates had the chance to visit a number of virtual sessions, chaired by academics and clinicians in the field on topics as diverse as development of screening tools, treatment approaches and brain imaging research to virtual reality, social anxiety and promoting resilience. This of course is not an exhaustive list but there are too many areas to list them all!

The charity was delighted to sponsor Professor Kate Watkins, who gave a fascinating insight into some of her research investigating brain activity in people who stutter to improve our understanding of what underlies stammering. An accessible opening to the conference – I imagine many delegates appreciated the vegetable analogies she called upon when explaining parts of the brain! Soo-Eun Chang, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, presented findings from her longitudinal neuroimaging study that has helped shed light on what might be happening in the brain of children who stammer.

As well as a host of stimulating talks, three poster sessions offered an opportunity for researchers to present their work to smaller groups of delegates and to network with colleagues. With up to 30 poster presentations taking place during each of the three sessions, there was plenty of choice! I was excited to present some of the preliminary findings of research that forms part of my PhD with my colleague, Dr Hilde Hofslundsengen, Associate Professor at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. The virtual poster rooms enabled delegates to ‘drop in’ and discuss the research, while the conference app permitted access to posters over the entirety of the conference. It was really helpful to discuss our research with delegates, some of whom were working on similar areas in the field of stammering, and a great chance to connect!

This year the Travers Reid Award was awarded to Rakesh Veerabhadrappa, doctoral student at the All India Institute of Speech & Hearing, which recognised his outstanding work on validating a tool for assessing speech-related anxiety in children who stammer in India. This will no doubt substantially contribute to the work of clinicians working with this population.

Rakesh Veerabhadrappa receiving the 2020 Travers Reid award

Needless to say that the 12th Oxford Dysfluency Conference provided a fantastic programme of stimulating presentations that managed to convey the sheer amount of research taking place across the globe. If you’re interested in hearing more about the conference and research in the field, join us for our upcoming Parent Forum on 18th January where we will be hearing from Conference Co-chair, Dr Sharon Millard.

In a blog about stammering research, it would be rather remiss of me not to mention opportunities for children who stammer and their families to participate in on-going studies. As part of my PhD, I’m currently running two studies focusing on mental health and wellbeing in children who stammer, so if your child is aged between 8 and 13 years and would like to take part, do have a look here.

Ria Bernard

UCL PhD student

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