Editor's note: Carol Schultz of Bellingham lost her ability to speak, read and write after a stroke 13 years ago. She chronicled her path to recovery in "Crossing the Void: My Aphasic Journey."
Aphasia is the inability to speak or understand speech, caused by a stroke, brain injury or birth defect. When an aphasic stroke took my words, I wanted to meet someone who had recovered from it. I wanted to know how they did it.
In the end, the "how" that worked for me came with great difficulty, because it didn't come from traditional methods.
I learned to speak by learning to spell through phonics and by reading aloud. My brain needed to absorb sounds (phonics) before it could process words, before I could speak.
Yet reading aloud was not completely foreign to the speech profession. National studies conducted in 1986 and 1995 revealed that oral reading helped people with aphasia not only read better, but also express themselves better, write better and understand speech better.
Unfortunately, the benefits of reading aloud remained unappreciated by many in the profession for many years.
Then "phonomotor therapy" appeared. While the therapy might not be effective for every kind of aphasia, in my estimation it provides significant hope for many people.
Traditional aphasic speech therapy emphasizes teaching and learning one word at a time. Yet that approach is often too high a threshold, because the foundation of speech lies in the sounds of words.
Phonology is the study of how sounds are organized and used in language. Associate professor Diane Kendall's phonomotor therapy at the University of Washington uses a phonological approach that starts at the bottom, reducing speech therapy to its lowest common denominator.
The therapy is intensive: two hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks.
Instead of teaching words, it teaches sounds, which, in turn, embed the brain with sounds and sound sequences that become the stepping stones to words. In other words, phonics.
If an aphasic has outgrown traditional therapy and formal phonomotor therapy is not available, there are alternatives. Depending on the degree of aphasia, a plan that uses oral reading and spelling through phonics may be beneficial. After all, to read aloud is to speak.
Support can come from family members or friends, private language tutors and the Whatcom Literacy Council. Learning tools available from libraries, bookstores and school supply stores include flash cards, puzzles, emergent reader books, phonic spellers, language workbooks and English-as-a-second-language aids. Mobile apps for speech pathologists are also available.
People whose speech is still not satisfying their communication needs can ask their therapist to help them investigate "augmentative and assistive communication" strategies and devices. Those can be as simple as using gestures, to using software supported by computers.
-- "Crossing the Void: My Aphasic Journey" is available from local bookstores and online at crossingthevoid.com.
-- Aphasia Research Laboratory at the University of Washington: 206-685-2140 or depts.washington.edu/sphsc/labsites/kendall/about.htm.
-- Outpatient speech therapy clinic, St. Joseph hospital: 360-715-6420, ext. 1.
-- Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Western Washington University: 360-650-3885, wwu.edu/csd.