Friday, October 26, 2007

Aphasia victims find a voice in UA group

April R. Ford

Stroke and disease can sometimes cripple a person's ability to use and understand basic language. But a UA communication group offers a way for people with aphasia, a severe communication disorder, to re-establish who they are on their own terms.

"Aphasia is a language disorder, meaning it affects our ability to understand or use our words, vocabulary, grammar and all the pieces that go into framing a message," said Barbara Shadden, a professor at the College of Education and Health Professions.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimated that about a million people across the U.S. are affected by aphasia, which results from damage to the language parts of the brain.

Every person has their own sense of who they are, Shadden said, but the problem for victims of aphasia is that the idea of a self depends on how you use language.

For people who have suffered stroke or other disease, aphasia can hinder their ability to tell the world who they are, Shadden said.

"We all believe in our sense of self," Shadden said, "but the problem is it depends on others, and communication is the key."

A communication group was created at the UA's Speech and Hearing Clinic in 2004 to provide therapy to individuals having trouble telling their story because of aphasia. The group's focus centers on recreating the individual's sense of self through the development and communication of a life story, Shadden said.

Telling that story on their own terms is a crucial part of the communication group, said Patricia Koski, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice.

"People recreate a self," Koski said. "Although, if they don't have the tools to recreate that self, they are in danger of losing it in the sense that somebody else decides for them who they are or what they are capable of."

Members of the UA communication group use tools such as beliefs, gestures or words to share their life story with others.