Since 2011, Larry Boles, PhD, CCC-SLP, professor of speech-language-pathology (SLP), has organized an aphasia conversation group known as the Pacific Aphasia Conversation Team (PACT) for stroke victims. He has found that, in addition to helping them regain communication skills, PACT helps the members reclaim their sense of identity.
“In the group, they are a truck driver, a welder, a photographer, a karate instructor,” said Dr. Boles. “Outside the group, they are someone with aphasia.”
Aphasia can be compared to learning a foreign language. The difference is that, rather than learning a new language, clients must relearn language itself. “One of the parts of the brain that is most vulnerable to stroke is the part that allows us to say what we want to say,” Dr. Boles explained.
For individuals striving to regain their language skills, PACT offers a space of understanding forged by shared experience. “They get to connect with one another in a way that is really touching,” he said.
“I think that we’ve created a sanctuary for them and a training ground for students to participate at a much more humanistic level than they get with more typical interactions.”
Dr. Boles’ daughter is in middle school. Her class has exchanged postcards with the members of the group. Dr. Boles sensed that one of the members was apprehensive about the project and was frustrated by the arduous task of articulating his thoughts in writing. In a message that was addressed to him, the student expressed how she admired his perseverance and courage. “When he got a card back, he was in tears,” Dr. Boles shared. “It was wonderful that they were able to have that exchange.”
Each semester, Dr. Boles is assisted by two to four graduate SLP students. He looks for students who display compassion and discernment when interacting with clients. “Somebody who will let the person talk if they are talking, but if they are struggling will know how to intervene.”
“I think that we’ve created a sanctuary for them and a training ground for students to participate at a much more humanistic level than they get with more typical interactions,” Dr. Boles said. He believes “optimism feeds on itself.” He hopes that the successes the clients experience within the group will bolster their confidence and be a source of encouragement when they find communication to be incredibly difficult.
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold