What aphasia can teach us about conversation – Connection is key.

Are you a good conversation partner?
Conversation, as with developing any skill, takes practice. There are simple rules to conversing; taking turns, verifying understanding, and knowing how adding gestures, facial expression and other body language helps. We each have our own style.
Conversing is infinitely more than speaking. It is often 50% about the content we are sharing and 50% about how both parties feel about the exchange. A good conversation partner helps compensate for any problems in the communication process. Doing so without taking over, putting words in others’ mouths or becoming overbearing is a delicate balance that takes attention and effort.
Improving your communication skills is all about connection. Whether this applies best to the workplace, your interpersonal relationships, or somewhere else, implementing strategies that enhance communication and strengthen human connections is a productive outcome for everyone involved.

A common goal for families dealing with aphasia is the ability have deeper conversations, ones that go beyond communicating basic needs. Since conversation is the foundation for everything in our lives, aphasia can put the glue of our relationships at risk.
People with aphasia can learn strategies to compensate for their unique set of communication problems. A holistic, comprehensive approach to life with aphasia must also focus on training conversation partners. These partners can learn adaptive communication techniques that allow for enjoyable conversations people with aphasia and their loved ones crave. Contact the Aphasia Center of West Texas to learn more about these conversation partner services.

The most important lesson aphasia can teach all of us about conversation, is to slooooow down. Just as multitasking proves to be counterproductive, rushing through the ebb and flow of conversation has the same undesired effect. Taking time to connect, slow down, and use a few adaptive techniques is key to fulfillment for everyone.

Holidays with Aphasia

The holidays act as a significant checkpoint in our lives. It is a mechanism we use to measure time and to which we attach our memories. In November and December, we reflect on the year past which can spark mixed emotions. Here are a few tips to navigating the holidays when aphasia is part of the equation.

Holidays are a time for traditions. Familiarity brings comfort. Simply going through the motions of a favorite holiday tradition can be a cathartic endeavor for anyone, but especially for families learning to cope with aphasia. However, if a tradition no longer makes sense, update it. Be proactive about forming new traditions based on current circumstances.

Slow Down
It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Special considerations for these annual events can be overwhelming. A fundamental communication technique used for living with aphasia can be beneficial to us all as we approach the season: Slow the conversation. Give each person a chance to collect and communicate their thoughts. Be sure to have pen and paper available for writing and verifying key words, and keep that paper to make it easier to come back to that topic. Everyone has a voice and wants to be understood.

Be Thankful
Take time to think about and document or verbalize things and people in life you are thankful for. Keep it simple, but not childlike. Make this list and check it twice.

Break into Song
Aphasia is a communication disorder caused by an injury to the part of brain that controls language, typically the left side. The most common cause is stroke, but any trauma to this region of the brain such as an aneurysm, brain tumor, or head trauma can cause aphasia. Specific symptoms and their severity depend on the location of the brain effected and the extent of the damage.
In some cases, people who are not able to speak can sing because different areas of the brain control these two functions. Singing is a function of the brain’s right side. Make the most of holiday songs if this works for your family. For those not able to participate by singing, music can still be enjoyable and connect one to fond memories.

Give and Help Others Do the Same
It is better to give than to receive. This encompasses the true spirit of the holidays. People with aphasia often find themselves on the receiving end more than they prefer. Depending on others for help takes some getting used to, especially for the independent types. And while most are grateful for the additional support, it is important they find ways to give back and enrich the lives of others. Helping someone with aphasia use their talents, skills, and their voice as a way to make a positive impact is the greatest gift of all. People with aphasia have a lot to contribute.

The Aphasia Center of West Texas wishes you and yours a happy holiday season.

To help friends and family understand aphasia, along with simple techniques that help, consider gifting It’s Still Me!, a 17-minute DVD, completed with the input of Aphasia Center West Texas members and families.

Aphasia Communication Techniques for the Rest of Us…

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

Announcing June 17th Concert Bob Seger Tribute Band

When it comes to Rock and Roll, there is one American recording artist inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with a career that spanned five decades, including twenty-one albums and more than sixty singles, selling over 50 million copies. That artist is of course, the legendary Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. Sponsorships (with reserved seats, catered meal, and more) are now available for Turn the Page, The Ultimate Tribute to Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. For all the details click here

4 Things I Learned About Life with Aphasia

I am someone who attended the first Aphasia Center of West Texas fundraiser, Chocolate Decadence 11 years ago. But not until I was invited to become a board member did I truly begin to understand aphasia, what causes aphasia or what living with aphasia might entail.
I thought aphasia was only about the loss of speech, but I have learned that it can rob a person of language in many forms – speaking, reading, writing and numbers. Another thing I learned – aphasia affects everyone differently.
For those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic injury to the brain, our Aphasia Center gives folks tools to re-engage in life’s interactions and activities. Plus the caring and creative staff gives hope to those with aphasia. I’ve learned that there is no cure for aphasia, but with individualized speech therapy for aphasia followed by aphasia group treatment, lots of healing can take place. Living with aphasia and living a full and fulfilling life with aphasia is possible.
I am proud to be a part of the board of directors, excellent staff and volunteers who work within the wonderful physical- and communication-accessible environment that is the Aphasia Center of West Texas.

By Donna Robertson

Philanthropic Family of the Year Award

Philanthropic Family of the Year Award goes to Cece and A.J. Brune

ACWT joins our region in honoring Cece and A.J. Brune selected as Philanthropic Family of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. As 29-year West Texas residents, Cece and A.J. support a broad range of organizations, including the Aphasia Center of West Texas.

11 years ago, when Cece heard the plight of stroke survivors struggling with aphasia, she invented a chocolate-themed fundraiser called Chocolate Decadence. She chaired both the event’s first year (which raised one month of the Center’s operating expenses) and the 10-year-anniversary event (now consistently raising nearly 50% of an entire year’s operating funds).

Executive Director Kitty Binek reflects, “Every nonprofit dreams of volunteer impact this far-reaching. Cece’s meticulous standards match the Aphasia Center’s bar of excellence. Her attention to detail shows in every interaction whether an event, recognition of staff efforts, or the way she motivates others to serve. Cece and A.J. consistently invite their friends to our events, broadening awareness of aphasia as well as broadening our circles of support.”

The depth of sharing from Cece and A.J. Brune has changed our region, making West Texas a better place for all of us.

Judge Pat Baskin Volunteer of the Year Goes to ACWT’s Marilyn Mathis


Volunteers at the Aphasia Center are the lifeblood of our program.

Volunteers are challenged with jobs requiring specialized skills, hours of training and high levels of accountability. We utilize various tools and adaptations to create an environment that provides communication access and offers a holistic approach with the goal of helping people with aphasia re-engage in life. As a result, we ask our volunteers to make an uncommon commitment requiring an enormous degree of passion and dedication.

Marilyn Kitty Carolyn VOLUNTEER
Having spent the past seven years as a program volunteer Marilyn Mathis has proven herself to be a rare treasure. As a retired school teacher, Marilyn began serving in our computer lab where she assists members in using aphasia-friendly software programs. Rarely absent, she consistently offers patience, kindness and support. She also acts as a conversation group facilitator and leader of our weekly Book Club. However, these duties are only the beginning. She can also be seen stuffing envelopes, pulling weeds, answering phones, working special events and performing a myriad of other humble tasks.

That being said, the greatest endorsement came in 2013 when along with others, Aphasia Center members nominated Marilyn for the Sweetheart Award – the most prestigious honor a volunteer can receive from the Center, and she won.

Marilyn Mathis w ACWT Book Club members

Though all the hours and tasks are invaluable, Marilyn’s biggest contribution is the lifeline she offers to Aphasia Center members who can no longer read or travel. As Book Club facilitator, Marilyn has become skilled at all the adaptive techniques necessary for people with aphasia to have an authentic conversation after listening to a good book. This skill, coupled with her passion and heart for those who know more than they can say, caused her to begin asking our members, many struggling with mobility, if they could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? One by one as they expressed the places they longed to see, she researched and came back with a way the group could virtually travel to their chosen destinations. She sparked conversation and connection, transporting people who could use a vacation off to the location of their dreams.

All of at the Aphasia Center of West Texas applaud Marilyn Mathis as winner of the Judge Pat Baskin 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Living with Aphasia


Living with Aphasia – aphasia goals and aphasia treatment after rehab therapies end.

Communication is essential and fundamental to life. When communication is impaired it also obstructs health – the ability to live life to its fullest potential – as defined by the World Health Organization’s definition of health.
Nearly one third of all stroke victims have aphasia. Aphasia from stroke or any brain injury is likely to linger because the language center of the brain has suffered permanent damage.

The goal of the Aphasia Center of West Texas, as well as other aphasia resources, is to emphasize treatment focused around meaningful outcomes and giving people with aphasia the tools to reengage in life and activities they deem important no matter a person’s situation or setting.

To evaluate meaningful outcomes we first look at what living with aphasia feels like.
An aphasia diagnosis can lead to feelings of isolation. People living with aphasia report feeling unproductive and marginalized by society. Depression and aphasia is an all too common occurrence. Contributing factors are low self-esteem, lack of confidence, embarrassment, and anxiety. Aphasia can make conversation uncomfortable and overwhelming. The uneasiness can cause a fear of going new places and a fear of navigating appointments and life in general. And families are not exempt from the ripple effect.

Participation is the key to meaningful outcomes of aphasia communication therapy.
In the aphasia community we talk about the life participation approach to aphasia rehabilitation. With the life participation approach we use adaptive communication strategies, and we teach those strategies to family, friends, anyone and everyone interested in helping people with aphasia access life’s interactions.

The Aphasia Framework for Outcome Measurement model (AFROM) is an approach coined by a team of renowned aphasia researchers and speech and language pathologists. The approach illustrates how aphasia is a language barrier whose impact can be minimized by environmental adaptations, skilled conversation partners, and participation in activities of one’s choosing. Success in all of these areas plays a critical role to self-identity and living with aphasia.

Removing communication barriers – making language “aphasia friendly.”
As part of the initial aphasia assessment and individualized aphasia treatment plan, we look for ways to simplify communication so interactions are easier for a person with a language barrier like aphasia. This includes identifying symbols for everyday objects and concepts. A common project for members is to, with the help of our staff, put together a book with symbols and pictures that tells the person’s life story. What a great tool for making new friends and showcasing personalities.

These aphasia friendly communication tools are reinforced in our safe environment at the Aphasia Center of West Texas through various groups, classes and activities. Furthermore, we work with families so that everyone at home can become familiar with aphasia friendly communication techniques.

But it doesn’t stop there, the goal of the aphasia community is to educate the public and encourage a more aphasia friendly environment in our society. Signs, menus and other materials that are considered aphasia friendly also work to overcome other kinds of language barriers including English as a second language, dyslexia, and the hearing impaired. We want everyone to have a better understanding of aphasia and know it does not affect someone’s intellect, only their ability to communicate. This knowledge will help health care providers, researchers, funders, policy makers and society at large to see the big picture and better respond to the needs of those living with aphasia.