Encouraging Communication Independence in Aphasia Recovery

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by Brian Baez, Caregiver Liaison

Do you remember that moment when you were a kid you finally found your balance on your bike and rode free from training wheels for the first time? It was exciting, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. There’s a delicate balance between knowing when’s the right time to allow someone to take steps on their own, and learning how to enable another’s independence. People often say look to nature to find answers to life’s questions. However, I don’t think pushing someone out of the nest to see if they can fly is always the right answer.  

Just recently, my spouse and I were at a large convention with vendors all around. A booth just down the aisle was sampling a cure-all skin cream.  He wanted to go down there and try a sample and find out what they were all about. He could very clearly communicate verbally to me that he wanted to try it, but he wanted me to go with him. Why? Because he said he couldn’t talk to them. So here I stand at the fork in the road. Do I oblige and go with him, doing all the talking with Jason slipping into the background, or do I tell him no because he knows exactly what to say since he just said it to me 30 seconds ago?

This was the perfect time for me to have that split second evaluation of the situation and consider the factors. Were we in a safe environment to try? Yes.  What would happen if he got stuck? Nothing, I would be close by to jump in if needed. Does he have the words to communicate what he wants and needs? Yup, see above. “Sorry man, you’re on your own this time!” I said with a slight smirk knowing full well he would be successful. And you know what happened? He was! He came back with a big smile knowing he did what he thought he couldn’t or was too afraid to try.

That was the day the training wheels came off! As caregivers we sometimes feel the need to shelter, protect, and speak for our loved ones with aphasia. But we need to do our part to make sure that we are encouraging those we care for to communicate as independently as they can. Will there be times we need to step in and help? Absolutely. But ultimately, enabling them to express themselves without relying on someone to speak for them will foster even more independence. Just like parents sometimes cover their eyes as they watch their kids ride their bikes for the first time, it may be hard to let go. But in the end, the thrill of knowing what you can do is more gratifying than the fear never trying.

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About Dr. Bartels

Dr. Bartels is the owner of The Aphasia Center Intensive Aphasia Programs. She helps families with aphasia through communication training, personalized treatment plans and customized home programs.