One of the many things we worry about for people with aphasia is social isolation - if you have a significant language impairment it is difficult to engage in a personal conversation, understand a television program, order your own coffee, read for entertainment, and sometimes even talk about something beyond basic human needs. As you can imagine, it can limit a person's desire to engage in communication if you know it's going to be a struggle and frankly pretty boring, and you can end up living in a bubble.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of stepping in to a well establish treatment group when my colleague was away - this group is made up of men and women of different ages, races, and backgrounds, but they are united by their aphasia. On average, they could produce 2 - 3 words to get a message out and need to really concentrate to understand each other. They use other ways to communicate, like writing and pointing to things in pictures, to communicate so their are always tools on the table for their access. I had an activity planned if they needed it, but when I opened up the group by saying "Is there anything on your minds today?" one of the men wrote H-A-T-I and we were off and running.
Through lots of ways to get it out, each person shared that they were horrified by the events in Haiti and even though our country had seen devastation from Hurricane Katrina, we can't even imagine the hell that is Haiti right now. They did everything right - they tried to talk and when it failed they tried something else. They asked questions of each other. They clarified points for each other. The communication was so complex and meaningful, and then the most amazing thing happened.
One of the guys had really been struggling to follow the conversation despite a very slow rate and lots of written key words for reinforcement. When I asked him directly what he thought about all this, he talked about how his heart was broken for them (well, he said "that lady" but we knew what he meant) and then he reached out and grabbed the hands of the other patients and led them in a prayer. It was so moving - his prayer was littered with difficult utterances but we knew what he meant and surely God did too. This was really a lovely thing to do, but my favorite part of it was despite the fact that I was sitting beside him, I wasn't included in this circle of prayer. He didn't reach for my hand, he reached for the person sitting on the other side of me who was walking his walk.
So, so cool.
Photo is from the movie "The Bubble Boy". It says Moops!