Speech & Language Therapy
With all the visible disabilities in the world, it is easy to miss the invisible, silent ones. No less important, the invisible disabilities can sometimes sink to the back of the shelf, not debated or discussed outside of medical circles or those directly affected by it.
A new module at NUI Galway is highlighting the importance of understanding those suffering from Aphasia and is teaching students how to communicate with them by being conversational partners.
Aphasia is the loss of the ability to use or understand language after a stroke or brain injury. It is a neurological disorder that, while not outwardly obvious, affects those that suffer and their families in a very profound way. Each person experiences it differently. Some aren’t able to speak at all, while others can’t read, write or use numbers. Everyday activities such as having a conversation, answering the phone, or watching television, can become a source of frustration and anxiety. The course at NUI Galway teaches students to be social partners to those affected by Aphasia, using supportive communication techniques such as drawing, writing, gestures, etc.
“We can become so focused on technical skills that we are moving away from basic interaction between human beings and so this is trying to get back to that,” Ruth McMenamin, Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy said. “The challenge is not to lead or coerce, but to get back to the basics and realise you’re interacting with a human being and see the importance of conversation.”
A representative from Connect, a
The unique thing about this course in comparison to others, according to Ruth, is that it is provides a role reversal from patient to sufferer. In this area, the person suffering from Aphasia is the expert and they basically teach the students how to engage with them and what works best for communicating. Students are then learning from the person suffering from Aphasia and taking what they learned in the classroom and applying it outside of that setting, making it a social approach to medicine.
Organisers see the programme as an important contribution to the student’s education about their role within society and about the daily challenges faced by people living with Aphasia. The values of respect, communication, creativity, excellence and inclusion are crucial to the development of the students’ role as conversational partners and this programme hopes to give students the unique opportunity to cultivate relationships that will highlight those values.
“This programme will give the students a unique opportunity to share their knowledge and resources with local people who are living with Aphasia, and give them real life experience of communicating with people who have Aphasia, not just academic classroom experience,” Ruth said.
Because Aphasia is such an isolating disability, coordinators of the course hope to reduce withdrawal from society. Students from NUI Galway visiting the person with Aphasia on a weekly basis will reduce this sense of isolation and social exclusion.
“The competencies of the person living with Aphasia in the local community will be actively acknowledged and their communicative strengths developed through supportive communication techniques utilised by students,” Ruth said. “People may find an improvement in self-esteem and self-confidence through regular participation in successful communication.”
Twenty two undergraduate fourth year speech and language therapy students are participating in the programme and are matched with 12 people suffering from Aphasia in