Aphasia: a word that brings about a world of change to so many individuals and their loved ones each year. Do you know a loved one or friend whose life has been impacted by aphasia? You might ask yourself, “what is aphasia?,” a question that nearly 85% of people admitted to asking themselves in a 2016 national survey on aphasia awareness. Aphasia is a medical term to describe the loss of language that results after damage to the brain’s language areas due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, a tumor, or some neurological diseases.
More than 2 million individuals in the United States live with aphasia. When aphasia results after brain injury, communication is impacted in regards to language comprehension, production, or both. Imagine one day having language abilities and then suddenly losing your ability to communicate; it can be devastating adapting to this new way of life and functioning, which is why 93% of stroke survivors experience a high level of psychological distress post stroke. Loved ones must also learn to cope with their relative’s differences and supported to navigate new ways of communicating and facilitating tasks of daily life.
Speech Therapy plays a huge part of the rehabilitation and support process; while there is no medical cure for aphasia, most people can improve over time as their brains begin to heal and pave new networks for learning.
I want to share with you how aphasia has touched my life and leave you with some food for thought if you get the opportunity to cross paths with someone touched by this sudden barrier to communication.
I was grateful during my graduate school years at Boston University to be the resident intern at the Boston University Aphasia Resource Center. It was my first experience interacting so closely with patients working to recover from this language disorder that I had learned about and studied in my classes. I was in charge of running 4 aphasia groups, managing care for up to 12 adults per group. My mentor and supervisor at the time released me into these unchartered waters, which was the best way to learn and critically think how to individualize care for each of my clients in a dynamic group setting. Any feeling of fear quickly dispersed as I developed relationships with each of the individuals in my groups. While it was my role to “provide the therapy” and support them through designated tasks, pushing them to make gains toward their respective goals, they taught me in return, too. These amazing individuals, while all in different stages of their rehabilitation journeys, tackled each challenge I presented to them with perseverance and unwavering fearlessness. They taught me that you can achieve so much through hard work and to have confidence in the abilities you have and hopeful in what’s ahead. While the road most certainly was not without obstacles or pain, despite losing their former abilities and life as “easy” as before, they were filled with a fire to keep tackling their goals and an eagerness to learn how they could improve their skills each day. These special adults with aphasia touched my life far more than they realized. They left me inspired by their grit and determination; and with that, the hope and dream to create a place where they would always be supported. Fast forward to today, AASL has become the therapy home to many individuals pursuing their journeys to recovery after aphasia.