Thursday, January 17, 2008

If Steven Colbert had Aphasia

Blissfully, both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are back on the air following 10 weeks of being dark from the writers' strike. They are both at a bit of a loss for words, but they are working around it. Jon Stewart cut a promo for tonight's Daily Show by grunting and gesturing (they also changed the graphic from THE Daily Show to A Daily Show -- too cute). Steven Colbert, in his opening instead of his usual 3 camera shot preview of the show, simply said "Tonight...". They got the message across but didn't use words to do it.

This is what people with aphasia do.

I spent an hour today hanging out with 2 people who have such severe aphasia that they simply have no words that consistently come to them. Therapy is often working on finding the words, but also on figuring out how to communicate when you can't talk and you can't really write very well. It involves training on things like gesturing (a pretty hard thing to do if you don't have a good mental image of the concept you want to relay, or a hand that does its own thing),drawing (ditto), remembering to look around the room or in a notebook for things to point to, and writing what you can, even if it is just the number of letters in the word or the letters you can figure out. It also involves training a communication partner to be a better guesser and question-asker. It is hard for both the person with aphasia and their communication partner.

But today, one of them got the idea beautifully. When shown a picture of Michael Jackson that her communication partner couldn't see, an 80+ year old woman pointed to her nose then got up and tried to moonwalk. Her communication partner, who also has severe aphasia, laughed and applauded.

Some days I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

The picture above is affectionately called "The Cookie Theft Picture", and is part of a standard battery to evaluate aphasia called the Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination. The client is asked to describe the picture in sentences, either verbally or in writing.