What do you say to someone who might not be able to respond as expected?
I am a proud volunteer and supporter of the Aphasia Center of West Texas and have been for many years. I didn’t know anything about Aphasia when I was first asked to serve. I’ve gained an extensive amount of knowledge about aphasia resources and aphasia facts along the way. But I’m a long way from being an expert.
As a volunteer I spent most of my time on the business side participating and spearheaded initiatives such as marketing, finance, fundraisers and other tasks necessary to operate a non-profit.
Over the years I’ve interacted with many of the members, the people with aphasia whom our efforts support. I attended an aphasia conversation group, required for all board members. I’ve heard personal stories of those who have graciously and humbly shared. I’ve gotten to know some of the members personally and discovered family connections, it’s a small world after all, and even tag teamed speaking engagements to bring awareness to the mission of the center.
But interacting with someone with aphasia wasn’t easy for me, especially in the beginning. What do you say to someone who might not be able to respond as expected? I was afraid of making others uncomfortable or frustrated. I was afraid of feeling uncomfortable and frustrated myself. I’m forced to deal with my own communication deficiencies and insecurities. Was I ready to make up the difference for what someone else wasn’t able to contribute to the conversation or was that the wrong thing to attempt anyway?
I struggled with how to pose questions. I found myself wanting to increase the volume of my speech which, I know, doesn’t help. I’m guilty of avoiding eye contact because I’m not sure of how to react even though I understand exclusion is often described as the worst part of dealing and living with aphasia.
Just as people with aphasia must undergo aphasia therapies and learn adaptive communication techniques, the rest of us must become familiar with and practice what it means to be aphasia friendly and communication friendly (the same techniques used here work to overcome a wide array of communication differences).
These helpful communication strategies and aphasia communication techniques give me the confidence to initiate and engage in conversation and work to develop relationships with people who have so much to contribute.
• Don’t leave anyone out
• Remember, aphasia doesn’t diminish intellect
• Ask simple and direct questions
• Slow down – talk about one thing at a time
• Use pictures – drawings and diagrams are helpful
• Use gestures – body language goes a long way
• Be patient
• Ask permission first before attempting to finish someone’s sentence
• Start with yes or no questions
• Confirm understanding (the other person’s and my own)
With the help of the Aphasia Center of West Texas I’m learning and using these aphasia friendly communication strategies. I appreciate the safe and non-judgmental environment in which to practice. I enjoy seeing others successfully navigate conversation despite these barriers and I’m thankful for their patience with me. The people at the Aphasia Center of West Texas, volunteers, members, staff and other contributors, are very much worth the effort of getting to know.
By Rachael Reinert