Strategies to Overcome Aphasia

(1) Living with a stroke is not always easy. Partly because the uninitiated general public tends to regard you either as slightly retarded, as learning-disabled, or as obstinate and non-cooperative. Finally, being physically handicapped in today’s fast moving world poses some formidable physical challenges. However, it may definitely help if you have the following communication strategies ready:

  • always prepare what you want to say in advance when talking on the phone or to administrators, banks, the police, etc;
  • always say that you have a speech impediment which has nothing to do with your intelligence or willingness to cooperate;
  • demand your right to speak, even when the topic of conversation has already shifted and you may be a bit late; and
  • when shopping, for example, have a written list of the things you want to buy, so that you are not “mute” or struggling for words when the shop assistant asks you what you would like.

It takes some training and, frankly, quite a bit of overcoming your inhibitions for these suggestions to work, but once you have achieved this, it will definitely ease your life considerably. You will be free of pressure (for it is to a large degree pressure that makes you totally “mute”, and the “fear” of performing in front of strangers), and you then will have all the time in the world.

(2) Of course, a person with aphasie benefits tremendously from “aphasia-friendly language”. Aphasie Suisse will implement a number of language features on their page, people with aphasia and their relatives. These language features, listed below, makes reading easier for people with aphasia.

Aphasia-friendly language has got a lot in common with, for example, “Simple English”. Aphasia-friendly language exhibits the following features (a selection):

  • use one statement per sentence and one topic per paragraph;
  • a paragraph should not be longer than a maximum of 5-6 short sentences;
  • avoid abbreviations or acronyms → instead of “e.g.” write “for example”;
  • always use the same word for the same thing → instead of the synonyms “help, aid, support” and so on, write “help” throughout;
  • write numbers not as words, but as numbers → instead of “five aspects are important” write “5 aspects are important”;
  • avoiding passive constructions → instead of “aphasia can be treated by speech therapists” write “speech therapists can treat aphasia”;
  • avoiding complex verb phrases → instead of “The salad might be running out” write “The salad is running out”;
  • avoid ellipses → instead of “First comes work, then pleasure” write “First comes work, then comes pleasure”;
  • avoid anaphoric and cataphoric references, rather repeat the noun phrase even if it is not particularly nice → instead of “I asked Susie for help but she didn’t want to help” (anaphora) or “I asked her for help but Susie didn’t want to help” (cataphora) write “I asked Susie for help but Susie didn’t want to help”.

Further, to facilitate reading for a person with aphasia, write a text in (at least) font size 14 and line spacing 1.5, avoid inserting confusing or irrelevant pictures, and you can also activate (if needed) the text-to-speech function on the website (for example, Read Aloud).

Finally, the avoidance of anaphoric and cataphoric references can be used with other languages as well. In French one tends to avoid repetition: so, for example, for “Paris”, one writes the second time a reference to the city is needed, “la cité de la lumière”. That is, in aphasia-friendly language: “Paris” and “Paris” in order to avoid reverential confusion or uncertainty.

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