Speech Thoughts

Aphasia from the perspective of a therapist

Jim Bouton battles aphasia
Jim Bouton of the NY Yankees

I remember meeting Jim Bouton as an 11-year-old in the parking lot of Yankee Stadium in 1962. This right handed pitcher won two World series games and a total of 61 games for the NY Yankees. To this day I recall the number he wore 56 and the title of his tell-all book about the Yankee life “Ball Four”. Unfortunately,  when Jim Bouton experienced a stroke in 2012  it took away his ability to speak and comprehend spoken words – APHASIA.  After much therapy today he can converse and interact in social exchange with limitations. His wife Paula refers to his communication as “Pot Hole Syndrome”. She says he will be going along with “things will seem smooth with wit and vocabulary intact and then there will be a sudden unforeseen gap in his reasoning or a gap he cannot grasp.

as a therapist who spent a good piece of my career working with stroke victims who at varying levels suddenly experienced a loss or impaired ability to speak and or understand the speech of people around them

Wikipedia defines Aphasia as an inability to comprehend and formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. This damage is typically caused by a cerebral vascular accident (stroke), or head trauma, however, these are not the only possible causes.

Working thru Aphasia

We spend our lives building a vocabulary of words which describe the world around us. The vocabularies contained in our minds consists of many thousands of words. Every day depending on our experience we add new word memories. A word may be the name of a person we read about online, a new food or place we travel. Our brains can store vast amounts of information – and this is in retrospect what makes us human.

Yet in the space of an instant, a stroke might take away the words which define a mind. As a therapist, my immediate task sought to help patients recall the names of family, friends and special interests.  The street address of their house, foods they like, what they did for a living, the name of a pet. My therapy sought to help patients re-open existing or establish new pathways to the words of their lives. When successful it was a fun thing to do.

I often found individuals with receptive aphasia the most challenging population to help. In the most severe cases, attempts to use words (spoken or written or pictures)  met with mixed success. But even in such seemingly hopeless situations a thought process somehow mysteriously connected us. They knew I was there to help, as we both built a bridge back to language.

And although a stroke may limit a person’s ability to recall events or express themselves it doesn’t change the person inside. I think Paula, Bouton’s wife says it best:

“That it’s important to think about what is remains and not what’s been lost. You have to learn the person is still that person and focus on what he can do, rather than what he can’t do… and then adjust.”