I am writing this column fresh out of our 45th ASSBI Brain Impairment annual conference. Nominally held in Perth, the conference took place online due to uncertain COVID-19 related restrictions in Western Australia, limiting travel and gatherings of large crowds. But what a conference this was! The meeting was a resounding success, and I would like to congratulate the conference organising committee led by Janet Wagland and Michelle Kelly and supported by Margaret Eagers and MERS Events. The program that they put together was of the highest calibre with keynote addresses by international (Lynne Turner-Stokes, UK; Mathilde Chevignard, France) and national (Bruce Powell, Perth; Bronwyn Hemsley, Sydney; Beth Armstrong and Juli Coffin, Perth) speakers. As usual, a series of workshops were held on Day 1 covering topics such as Social media in professional practice, Goal setting in rehabilitation, Care following brain injury for Aboriginal Australians. Following a Welcome to Country by Kerri Colegate, Day 2 started in earnest with a debate on whether machines are the future in diagnosing and looking after people with brain impairment. Two teams, one in favour, the other opposed to the proposition debated fiercely but with great humour and outlined their position, and often finding common grounds. However, there could be only one winner and, in the end, the against team was declared winner by the audience by a fairly convincing margin! Many great papers were presented over the two days covering a wide range of topics, including dementia, rehabilitation, vocation, behaviour and emotion, language to name a few, as well as ‘how to sessions’ on behaviour support and NDIS, use of technology, and many others. In addition to the breadth and quality of science presented, what struck me was that most of the research was, explicitly or not, framed around a person-centred approach. Indeed, the philosophy underlying the majority of the projects presented was to make a difference in the life of people living with a brain injury. The conference concluded with its prize ceremony recognising the work by students. The Kevin Walsh Award went to Jeanette Collins for best presentations by a Master’s student, the Luria Award to Jasvinder Sekhon for best presentation by a PhD student, and the travel award to Vanessa Sharp for outstanding student abstract. Two additional prizes were awarded. First Meaghan MCAllister and the Healing Right Way trial group were the winner of Mindlink Brightwater Award for best interdisciplinary research project in Western Australia. And finally, Suzanne Barker-Collo was awarded the Tate-Douglas prize, for her Brain Impairment article, which was voted best paper of 2021 by the Editorial Board of the journal.
I would also convey my sincere gratitude to Michelle and Janet, who took on the task to organise the meeting, for battling two years of uncertain time and getting this meeting over the line. Indeed, many of you may not know that this meeting was scheduled to take place in 2020, with most of the planning work done in 2019. By the time COVID-19 hit and Australia went into lockdown in early 2020, the organising committee had a full program of international and national speakers lined up. However, rather than throwing the towel, Janet and Michelle took up the challenge and worked on the 2022 conference, hoping for a face-to-face meeting, Unfortunately, the face-to-face meeting was not meant to be but the conference was nevertheless a great success.
As current ASSBI President, I must confess that I was disappointed by not being able to go to Perth and attend the meeting in person: catch up with old friends and colleagues and meet new ones. Indeed, a conference is so much more than listen to presentations and workshops. It is about connecting and being part of a community: individuals who share interests, passions, and where novel ideas percolate, are discussed, with many evolving into research projects, collaborations for interventions, etc… Often these discussions occur on the sideline, between sessions or around a drink after the last session of the afternoon or during the conference dinner.
Not surprisingly, this is made much more difficult when the conference is held virtually. Nevertheless, social gatherings were held in several locations, including Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, either before or at the end of the conference, where delegates met together for a social occasion and share stories about ASSBI, the conference or other topics. For me, this demonstrates the collegiality of ASSBI, making it much more than simply a group of people interested in brain impairment.
Another advantage of the virtual meeting is the flexibility. With multiple parallel sessions, the choice is wide and therefore the decision to attend one or another session rather difficult. The virtual format, however, solves this problem, in that all presentations from the keynote addresses, invited speakers, paper sessions and data blitzes were recorded and are available to view at your leisure for the next 90 days. So you can listen to the talks that you missed or watch again the ones you enjoyed: what a treat!
Until next time, stay well and stay safe
Olivier Piguet, President, ASSBI