Stammering is the superpower to connect with people
14th September 2021
Jia Bin tells us her story of growing up in a small Chinese village, where support for her stammer was scarce. But when she moved to the USA, things started to change.
My story starts at a small village in the southwest of China. I was born during the One Child Policy era so I don't think my parents were very pleased when they found out their first born was a girl! Luckily, they didn't give me away and saved for years to pay the fine to have a second child when they had my younger brother.
Growing up feeling unwanted wasn't much fun. It got even worse when I started to stutter. My parents were not very happy with it. Every time I stuttered, my parents would 'remind' me with harsh words or sometimes physical discipline to teach me the 'right' way to talk. I learned at a very young age that it was extremely bad to stutter in Chinese society. Living in a poverty-stricken village, there was no information on stuttering whatsoever. The only portrayals were the characters being teased and laughed at on Chinese comedy shows. I feel like stuttering represents shame in my culture. There was no way that I wanted to see myself in that role.
Living in a poverty-stricken village, there was no information on stuttering whatsoever.
Filled with shame and fear, stuttering became my darkest secret that I had to hide every day from the world and I'd do anything to avoid being laughed at or punished for it. The moment I woke up every morning was to think about how to avoid stuttering, and every night I went to bed wishing I could wake up 'whole'.
Years went by and I became an expert in covert stuttering. I avoided words, people and situations. I constantly changed what I wanted to say and did everything to look and sound 'normal', but deep inside I felt like I was a fake. I despised myself. The emotions coming from hiding were so unbearable. I lived in silent despair year after year.
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The social and professional consequences of having a stutter in China was so high that I couldn't afford to be a person who stuttered. I knew I was able to get into college because I could hide it and I got employed because I spoke 'fluently'. I didn't see or know anyone who stuttered like me. I thought I was the only one.
My new path
My change happened when I came to the U.S. for graduate school majoring in Education seven years ago. It was the first time I had access to Google and found out about the stuttering community. It took me months to gather the courage to walk into a local stuttering self-help group. Then I started speech & language therapy, even though I thought it would be too late to reverse all the damage. But it was extremely helpful for me to put my experience into words and receive professional help.
In 2015, I attended my first National Stuttering Association (NSA) of America's annual conference. I was so shocked that there were a few hundred people who talked just like me in one room! Connecting with the community helped me accept my identity as a person who stutters and encouraged me to go back to my dark past and claim my power back.
Now, I stutter openly and use every opportunity to educate people about communication disorders. I am able to connect with my patients/clients because of stuttering and what it has taught me along the way.
During this time, I started to find my new path and passion for becoming a speech & language pathologist (SLP), since I knew what it was like to live in that isolation, darkness and despair. I swam in that pain long enough to understand how valuable a good SLP can be. I was accepted into Michigan State University and started my training in Fall 2020.
Now, I stutter openly and use every opportunity to educate people about communication disorders. I am able to connect with my patients/clients because of stuttering and what it has taught me along the way. Stuttering is no longer this dark secret that I need to hide, but the superpower to connect with people. It's been an amazing journey since I started graduate school and I enjoy each and every single day learning about communication disorders and improving my communication regardless of my fluency.
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Besides my graduate study, I am fairly involved in the stuttering community. I served as the NSA Regional Chapter Coordinator and I'm on the board of the World Stuttering Network. I am also on the team of translating OASES (the stuttering evaluation instrument by Dr. Scott Yaruss and Dr. Bob Quesal) into Mandarin Chinese. I am a Stutter Social host (a Google Meetup for people who stutter around the world). I also co-founded a Chinese stuttering podcast, Stammer Talk, and offer online support meetings for the Chinese stuttering communities (see Jia's Stammer Talk Facebook group for details). I hope I can reach as many children, teenagers and adults who stutter as possible in China and around the world.
If I could travel back in time, I would love to go and meet that little girl, Jia, and tell her it's OK to stammer and that she would someday connect to people all around the world because of it!