Uncovering the Faces of Aphasia


While working in my office, I met a student who wanted directions to the other side of campus. He had a severe stutter and had a difficult time enunciating his words. It took him a while, but he managed to ask his question on his own time and I answered on mine. A couple of weeks later, I saw him around campus and decided to talk to him. He’s actually an honorably discharged veteran who was wounded in combat. Although grateful for the operation that saved his life, he said the impact of the shrapnel gave him a form of nonfluent aphasia.

Aphasia is an encompassing term of varying symptoms that affect social communication. The major difference between aphasia and social communication disorders is that aphasia is caused by damage to the parts of the brain dealing with language. Aphasia causes difficulties in four general areas of communicating: spoken language expression, spoken language comprehension, written language expression, and written language comprehension. The effects of aphasia are unique depending on the person’s experiences, brain development, and the size/cause of brain injury.

Like the student from earlier, spoken language expression impairments are expressed in many ways: slower recall of words, speaking in single words, speaking in short fragmented sentences, putting words in the wrong order, substituting words for sounds similar to the spelling of that word, and/or making up words. Spoken language expression impairments are also a form of nonfluent aphasia. This means that they interrupt a person’s ability to produce speech. Examples of nonfluent aphasia include: Broca’s and transcortical motor aphasia, which primarily cause an individual to repeat words or (at the very least) parts of words.

Individuals with spoken language comprehension impairments typically display the following: a lack of awareness of speech errors, taking literal meanings of figurative speech, difficulties in following quick speech, unrelatable answers to yes and no questions, errors in understanding complex grammar (Ex. There’s a round ball in the corner store across the street), all of which lead to a delayed understanding of spoken messages.

Written expression impairments follow patterns of spoken expression impairments that are similar to their spoken counterparts. Individuals with written language expression impairments typically spell words incorrectly, use non-words, and have a tendency of writing run-on sentences with incorrect grammar usage. Individuals with reading comprehension impairments have difficulties recognizing some words by sight, which prevents them from sounding out words by letters. Moreover, they have difficulties reading words like: to, the, from, etc.  

These impairments degrade a person’s ability to such an extent that they are unable to speak their native language on a fluent level. If you’ve ever taken an introductory language class, you would more or less be able to communicate on the same level as someone with aphasia. Spanish classes were always difficult for me, but I only had to speak Spanish during class. People affected by aphasia face this difficulty daily. If we are patient with them like our teachers were patient with us, we would realize that taking the time to communicate with individuals with aphasia is seldom different than talking to any other stranger you happen to meet on the street, in class, or even an office asking for directions to the nearest dining hall.

References:

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