Aphasia Awareness Month is observed annually in June to raise awareness about aphasia, a language disorder that affects a person's ability to understand and communicate effectively. During this month, various organizations, support groups, and healthcare professionals work together to educate the public, promote understanding, and support individuals with aphasia and their families.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 1 million people in the US are living with aphasia and there's an estimated 180,000 new cases of aphasia per year in the United States (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD], 2015).
Aphasia is often caused by damage to the language centers of the brain, typically resulting from stroke, brain injury, or other neurological conditions.
People with aphasia may have difficulty with expressive language, understanding spoken language, difficulty with reading, and written communication (ASHA, n.d.). It can be a frustrating and isolating condition, impacting social interactions, relationships, and overall quality of life.
According to the National Aphasia Association, about one-third of stroke patients have aphasia (n.d.). Other etiologies of aphasia include brain injuries, tumors, Parkinson's disease, or illnesses such as meningitis or epilepsy.
The goals of Aphasia Awareness Month include:
Raising awareness: The month serves as an opportunity to educate the general public about aphasia, its causes, symptoms, and the challenges faced by individuals living with the condition. Increased awareness helps reduce stigma and promotes a more inclusive and understanding society.
Empowering individuals with aphasia: By highlighting the experiences and stories of individuals living with aphasia, the month aims to inspire and empower them. It encourages them to seek appropriate treatment, connect with support networks, and regain confidence in their communication abilities.
Providing resources and support: Aphasia Awareness Month focuses on providing resources, information, and support to individuals with aphasia, their families, and caregivers. This includes access to speech-language pathology services, support groups, communication strategies, and assistive technologies.
Advocacy: The month also serves as a platform for advocating for improved access to aphasia-related services, such as speech therapy, healthcare support, and accommodations in education and employment settings. It aims to raise awareness among policymakers and the broader community about the needs and rights of individuals with aphasia.
Throughout Aphasia Awareness Month, events and activities such as educational workshops, fundraising campaigns, social media campaigns, public lectures, and community gatherings take place to support the cause. These initiatives aim to increase understanding, encourage early detection and intervention, and improve the overall well-being and quality of life for individuals living with aphasia.
According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (n.d.), the goal of intervention for an individual with aphasia is to maximize on their strengths while targeting weakness related to their functional communication.
An AAC intervention approach for individuals with aphasia includes teaching multi-modal communication strategies, or the use of a variety of methods to communicate including gestures, spoken language, and a speech-generating device (SGD).
This approach aims to maximize an individual's use of residual speech and language as well as the teaching the use of compensatory strategies including AAC (Beukelman & Light, 2020).
AAC systems can range from low-tech to high-tech solutions. Low-tech options include communication boards or books with pictures or symbols that the person can point to in order to communicate. High-tech options involve the use of electronic devices, such as tablets or dedicated AAC devices, that have specialized software or applications to generate speech or display messages.
Speech-language pathologists work with the individual with aphasia and their families to identify, design, and implement intervention strategies to allow the person with aphasia to learn to use these strategies effectively.
AAC systems for individuals with aphasia should be personalized based on their specific needs and abilities. Some AAC systems use pre-recorded messages or phrases that can be activated with the touch of a button, while others may involve text-to-speech technology that converts typed or selected text into spoken language.
Here is an example of an aphasia board from the CoughDrop AAC app:
AAC can be an important tool for individuals with aphasia to maintain their independence, engage in conversations, and participate in various aspects of daily life. It is typically recommended that individuals work with a speech-language pathologist or other professionals experienced in AAC to assess their needs, determine the most appropriate AAC system, and provide training and support for effective use.
Want to learn more about AAC and Aphasia? Take a look at these resources here:
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Aphasia (Practice Portal). https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/aphasia/#collapse_6
Beukelman, D. R., & Light, J. C. (2020). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (5th ed). Brookes.
National Aphasia Association. (n.d.). Aphasia Fact Sheet. https://www.aphasia.org/aphasia-resources/aphasia-factsheet/
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2015). NIDCD fact sheet: Aphasia [PDF] [NIH Pub. No. 97-4257]. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/Documents/health/voice/Aphasia6-1-16.pdf
Katie Threlkeld, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed, ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist and the Educational Program Developer at Forbes AAC. She has over eight years of experience in AT and AAC assessment and treatment with both the pediatric and adult populations. Katie has presented at the state and national level on AAC topics and she has University teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level.