The Symptoms and Treatment of Aphasia

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Aphasia is a language disorder. Aphasia can affect expressive or receptive language, although expressive language aphasia is more common. People with aphasia have average or better intelligence and articulation ability. A symptom of underlying damage to the brain—often the result of a brain injury, stroke, or tumor—aphasia can occur in utero, childhood, or later in life.

Younger people with aphasia are more likely to recover their abilities. This is because the brain is still forming connections, and different parts of the brain have not yet specialized. Some children with aphasia are able to compensate for brain injury by using other parts of the brain for speech and language.

Symptoms

What does aphasia look like in the real world? The answer depends on the type and extent of brain damage they’ve experienced. Some children with aphasia may be unable to understand written or spoken language. Others may use language in odd ways, adding unnecessary or nonsense words.

Receptive aphasia specifically affects the individual’s ability to understand and make sense of language. Expressive aphasia affects the ability to communicate with others. Some people may have only one or the other form of aphasia, though many have both expressive and receptive difficulties. In many cases, children with receptive aphasia aren’t aware of their own challenges and so may become frustrated when they are not understood. On the other hand, children with expressive aphasia are often quite aware of what they want to say, but cannot find the words to communicate.

Aphasia can also cause other language issues. For example, some children with aphasia may take a long time to get out their words, and they may speak in very short sentences. Some types of expressive aphasia, such as those involving injury to a part of the brain called Broca’s area, may result in difficulty with speaking but no difficulty in understanding language.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • Use of odd or inappropriate words in conversation
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension
  • Challenges with writing
  • Difficulty with listening for meaning (in situations where instructions or information are being shared verbally)
  • Challenges with social communication (difficulty with understanding jokes, sarcasm, idioms, and other forms of social speech)

Treatment and Management

Aphasia is treatable, but not curable. Most treatment centers around speech therapy; a good therapist will build a program around the individual patient’s specific needs.

Not surprisingly, aphasia can become a major issue in the school setting, especially after the primary grades. Not only are teachers expecting more and more verbal communication and expression, but peers are also demanding better social communication. There are a variety of approaches teachers and aides can use to support learning and communication; for example:

  • Lessening auditory distractions such as loud conversation, music, or other noises in the classroom
  • Using simple, direct language (“Who was president in 2009?” as opposed to “What is the name of the person who led our nation in 2009?”).
  • Providing sufficient time for the student to formulate a response and communicate it. It can take much longer for a person with aphasia to answer an oral question, but that doesn't mean he or she is unable to provide the correct answer.
  • Promote as much independence as possible. It is easy for a student with aphasia to talk as little as possible, and to rely on others to speak for them, but of course, they will need independent communication skills as they grow up.
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