Open mics and improv workshops could be the stuff of nightmares for people who stutter. But that doesn't have to be the case.
More than 800 people who stutter when they speak came to Fort Lauderdale Beach last week. They tried out those techniques, and others, during workshops at the National Stuttering Association's 36th annual conference.
The focus was not about how to get rid of the often frustrating interuptions in someone's speech pattern, but instead how they can embrace it as part of empowered communication.
"It was about meeting other people who stuttered who could do things I never thought I could because of my stutter," Nelson Almeida said.
Almeida, 29, recently became a physical therapist in Maryland. He came to his first conference in 2013 and has been to almost all of them since, although, his reason for coming is different now.
"I've come to accept the fact that I am a person who stutter. And I can stutter and still be a great physical therapist," Almeida said. "Now I come back to the conferences so that I can meet those first-timers and just try to give back."
Ariel Mahlmann, 23, also attended this year's conference. She said it's just the simple act of being with other people who understand your struggle that helps with self-acceptance the most.
"I feel more understood here," she said. "This year, now I have more of a voice and I can speak up, and I feel more confident about my stutter."
Three million adults across the U.S. stutter, according to official data. The communications disorder disrupts speech and often leads to anxiety about talking.
Mahlmann even started writing a blog about how stuttering has impacted her life.
"I am a big, huge believer in self-advocacy and educating people who don't stutter about it," Mahlmann said. "We, as people who stutter, have the power to change the public's stigma about it."
Almeida and Mahlmann's speech therapist, Vivian Sisskin, has been presenting about different therapy options, as well as confidence, at professional gatherings since the 1980s.
Sisskin is a clinical professor at the University of Maryland and runs a stuttering clinic out of northern Virginia. She said one of her college mentors inspired her - he is a person who stutters.
"From a psychology student's point of view, I never realized that stuttering had so much to do with your identity, how you saw yourself as a communicator," Sisskin said.
The National Stuttering Association moves its annual conference across the U.S. each year. Sisskin said, it's in Fort Lauderdale this year to give the South Florida regional hub a better chance at accessing the conference's resources.
"Moving it around the country allows more people to be exposed to the feeling about the conference," Sisskin said.
Mahlmann, who's also from Maryland said, Fort Lauderdale makes this one feel a little bit more like a vacation to her:
"The beach is nice this year!" she said.
Local chapters of the National Stuttering Association in South Florida:
Boca Raton: Adults – Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the College of Education Building – Room 428, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road Boca Raton, FL. For more information, please contact the chapter leader Dale Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org/561-297-3238.
Broward County (South): Family (ages 7-17) & Adult (18+) Chapter – Meetings are held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 7:00PM at 6100 Griffin Road Davie, FL 33314. For more information, contact Chapter Leader Susan Moldow at Moldow1@bellsouth.net.
Miami: Adults – Meetings are held on the 3rd Tuesday every month from 6:30PM – 8:00PM. For more information, including meeting location, contact Chapter Leader Angela Medina at NSAMiami1@gmail.com, or visit the NSA Miami Facebook page.
Palm Beach: Teens (ages 13-17) – Meetings are held periodically at 10800 N. Military Trail #Suite 213 Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410. For more information, including meeting dates, contact Chapter Leader Liz Blake at email@example.com.