What is Speech-Language Therapy Like?

This article is the second in a three-part series with Susan Jackson and Susan Kemper:

A speech-language pathologist will work individually with your father to develop a plan for improved communication. She may also encourage him to join a support group in the community that meets regularly. The first goal is to shore up his language skills. This could mean speaking more words in longer phrases, or the therapist might focus on understanding -- strengthening his ability to grasp complex statements.

Coming out of the stroke, he may have only one word to express himself. The key is to tap into his cognitive storehouse, and help him use his own resources to re-enter the world of communication. This happens during strategic practice with the therapist or the group. If his limitations can't be overcome with time, the therapist will help him use other ways to communicate, such as expressive gestures.

Jackson said she has witnessed some eloquent stories that were told in just a few words. "One gentleman made a powerful impact on me. He was a former prisoner of war and told his story to our group. He could only produce single words like 'skinny,' but his gestures got the point across. We understood how cold he was in the camp when he crossed his hands over his chest and shook."

The other task of therapy is to help the family make adjustments. A therapist can explain how hard it is to produce a word out of thin air, especially if there is memory loss. Instead of asking your father to name his favorite food, you could give him a short list to select from, saying for example -- "Dad, which do you want, a hamburger or fried chicken?"

"What I teach my student clinicians is to downplay weaknesses and allow the participants to do what they can do. We make them look good," said Jackson.

This is the second in a three-part series with Susan Jackson and Susan Kemper -- scientists at the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies at the University of Kansas:

Part 1: Aphasia and rehabilitation
Part 2: What is Speech-Language Therapy Like?

Part 3: New Research on Hidden Deficits from Stroke