Understanding and Coping with Aphasia

Aphasia is a serious language disorder that can be treated but not cured.

Teacher helping elementary school student with classwork
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About Aphasia

Aphasia is a language disorder. Aphasia can affect expressive or receptive language, although expressive language aphasia is more common. People with aphasia have average or better intelligence and articulation ability. Aphasia can occur during the developmental period or may happen later in life as the result of a brain injury, illness, or disease.

Aphasia does not occur at birth; it is always the result of a brain injury caused by trauma or illness.

The good news is that younger people with aphasia are more likely to recover their abilities.  This is because the brain is still forming connections, and different parts of the brain have not yet specialized. Some children with aphasia are able to compensate for brain injury by using other parts of the brain for speech and language.

Symptoms of Aphasia

What does aphasia look like in the real world? The answer depends on upon the type and extent of brain damage they’ve experienced.  Some children with aphasia may be unable to understand written or spoken language.  Others may use language in odd ways, adding unnecessary or nonsense words.  In many cases, children with aphasia aren’t aware of their own challenges and so they may become frustrated when they are not understood.

Receptive aphasia specifically affects the individual’s ability to understand and make sense of language. Expressive aphasia affects the ability to communicate with others.

  Some people may have only one or the other form of aphasia, though many have both expressive and receptive difficulties.

Aphasia can also cause other language issues. For example:

Some children with aphasia may have a difficult time physically producing the sounds of speech. It may take them a long time to get out their words, and they speak in a very short sentence.

They may also unintentionally leave out words or add extra words. Some types of aphasia, such as Broca’s aphasia, may result in difficulty with speaking – but no difficulty in understanding language.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • Use of odd or inappropriate words in conversation
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension
  • Challenges with writing
  • Difficulty with listening for meaning (in situations where instructions or information are being shared verbally)
  • Challenges with social communication (difficulty with understanding jokes, sarcasm, idioms, and other forms of social speech)

Treating and Managing Aphasia

Aphasia is treatable, but not curable. Most treatment centers around speech therapy; a good therapist will build a program around the individual patient’s specific needs.

Not surprisingly, Aphasia can become a major issue in the school setting, especially after the primary grades.  Not only are teachers expecting more and more verbal communication and expression, but peers are also demanding better social communication.

There are a variety of approaches teachers and aides can use to support learning and communication; for example:

  • Lessening auditory distractions such as loud conversation, music, or other noises in the classroom
  • Using simple, direct language (“Who was president in 2009?” as opposed to “What is the name of the person who led our nation in 2009?”).
  • Providing sufficient time for the student to formulate a response and communicate it.  It can take much longer for a person with aphasia to answer an oral question, but that does mean he or she is unable to provide the correct answer.
  • Promote as much independence as possible. It is easy for a student with aphasia to talk as little as possible, and to rely on others to speak for them – but of course they will need independent communication skills as they grow up.

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