We’ve all been there. You are with your loved one (who has aphasia) and encounter someone who isn’t familiar with the condition and struggles with the interaction. These encounters can be awkward, lead to frustration, or even cause your loved one to retreat from social situations. There are, however, effective ways to turn this into a positive experience for everyone involved.
Start with empathy. Most people don’t know what aphasia is, let alone know how to effectively communicate with someone who has it. Think about what you knew before your loved one was diagnosed. Did you know what aphasia was or the best ways to communicate? Probably not. These skills are acquired over time and with much practice. Recognize this person is most likely feeling as awkward as you and your loved one.
From there you can reframe the conversation. Here are five techniques to turn a potentially uncomfortable encounter into a positive social experience for your loved one.
1. Acknowledge and educate
If there is awkwardness with the interaction, acknowledge it and address the issue head-on. Begin your conversation by saying, “Bob is a stroke survivor and has aphasia. Do you know what that is?”
If they retreat, it might be hard to educate that person in that moment. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people aren’t ready, willing, or able to engage. In fact, half of all aphasia caregivers report worsening relationship with friends since their loved one acquired aphasia.
If they do engage, the opportunity begins. Tell them what aphasia is and your experience with it. Above all else, explain that aphasia affects the ability to speak, not intelligence. Having a conversation may be difficult, but the effort is appreciated and can be beneficial for both parties.
2. Provide communication tips and strategies
Once you cross the bridge and your new communication partner is willing to engage, help him/her get started by offering tips and strategies to facilitate a conversation, such as:
• Speak slowly
• Ask one question at a time, as too many competing ideas can be difficult for your loved one
• Give the person with aphasia time to respond
3. Model and demonstrate
People understand and learn better from visual instructions and demonstrations. You may consider asking the first question and model the rate of speech he or she prefers. Leading by example breaks down barriers and makes the second question easier to ask. With any luck, the person will model your example and follow suit.
4. Reveal your loved one’s competency
You know your loved one best. You want this encounter to be positive for both him or her, as well as the interested communication partner. Monitor on the conversation and see how things go. It often helps to introduce a topic you know your loved one can speak to and has rehearsed a few times with others. Help reveal that your loved one is a competent adult who has information to share.
5. Provide resources for further learning
If the person is interested in learning more about aphasia, provide them with educational resources. These can include websites (like aphasia.com), Facebook groups, YouTube videos, etc. It may also be helpful for them to have these 7 quick tips for communication at their disposal.
Aphasia a communication disorder. It is no surprise that communicating with others can be challenging, but it is worth the effort and only comes with practice. Give these five techniques a try. We hope your next encounter is a positive one.
To learn about other common challenges caregivers and people with aphasia face, download The 2020 Aphasia Caregiver Report.