The good news is that you already do aphasia-friendly communication in your day-to-day life, you just don’t realize it. We’ve created two posts to help you separate fact from fiction when it comes to best practices. We’ve rounded up some quick tips to help people under aphasia and how to best communicate with someone who has aphasia.
Quick Aphasia Facts
Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand, produce, or read written or spoken words. Aphasia presents differently in each person. In fact, the only thing everyone with aphasia has in common is that aphasia does not affect the person’s intellect.
Aphasia can occur after a head injury or stroke. It can also be the result of a brain tumor. In rare cases, aphasia is the result of primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which is a neurodegenerative disorder.
Where Does Communication Break Down?
There are many types of aphasia, and each (Broca’s, Wernicke’s, global, etc) comes with its own challenges.
Some people with aphasia have difficulty taking in messages. They have trouble understanding what other people are saying or what they’re reading. Other people with aphasia have difficulty producing messages. Saying the correct word, remembering how to say what they want to say, getting started speaking, or writing may be impaired. Aphasia can affect speaking, understanding, writing, and reading.
Quick Communication Tips
Aphasia can be isolating. Imagine not being able to easily convey your thoughts to your friends and family. Imagine not being able to understand what they’re saying to you. But aphasia doesn’t have to be isolating. In fact, it can go a long way for a person with aphasia to know that you’re trying to help them to communicate and remain part of the conversation.
Help friends and family understand that the old ways of communicating may not work, and they’ll need to adjust in order to keep the person part of the conversation. Here are things you’re already doing that are part of aphasia-friendly communication.
Use More Than One Means of Communication
You already use more than one means of communication. As you speak, you also make gestures with your hands and use facial expressions in order to drive home your point. You should always use more than just your words to communicate. Additionally, be mindful of what you’re using to communicate. Does the tool you’re using––such as the telephone––limit the other signals you can be giving the person, such as seeing those gestures or facial expressions to aid in understanding? You may need to switch the medium, such as moving from phone call to video call, in order to enhance communication.
It’s not just gestures and facial expressions. Other communication aids may be pictures, pantomime, combining writing/reading and speaking, pointing to keywords, or communication apps.
Pause and Listen
Conversations with someone with aphasia may take more time. It helps to go into the conversation knowing that you need to be patient, utilize pauses, and wait. The more you clearly convey that the other person should take their time, the better they’ll be able to communicate. Stress increases communication difficulties, so make sure you are sending clear signals with your body language that you are patient.
Keep it Quiet
We all hear best when people speak to us at a normal volume rather than shouting, and when we hold conversations with minimal distractions. This fact is even more important when it comes to aphasia-friendly communication. Whenever possible, go somewhere quiet to speak, where you can see each other face-to-face.
Keep it Simple
Keeping it simple doesn’t mean infantilizing the person. It means thinking through what you need to say, removing the unnecessary parts of the story or questions, and getting to the heart of the matter. Keeping sentences brief provides more moments to pause and ensure that both people are following the conversation.1
1“That’s a Fact! Quick Tips for Aphasia-Friendly Communication (Part One).” National Aphasia Association, 17 June 2019, www.aphasia.org/stories/thats-a-fact-quick-tips-for-aphasia-friendly-communication-part-one/.