Finding Meaning Again

There are endless reasons why being a speech-language pathologist is a rewarding career. In fact, there are far too many to name. But perhaps the biggest reward is when you are able to give a person, regardless of their age or diagnosis, a “voice.” Last fall, while supervising our Aphasia Group at our local university, a client asked me if he could go talk to “some people about aphasia.” He further explained that before his stroke he knew nothing about aphasia and that his family members often misinterpreted his communications which was very frustrating. This particular client had a fast-paced career which involved public speaking all over the world. To me, it made perfect sense. Upon further reflection, I hesitantly took the idea to the whole group, asking if anyone would be interested in presenting to a local church group about stroke and aphasia. Crickets. Suddenly, a hand in the back raised and said “yeah, I could do that!” That was all we needed- the other 10 participants quickly followed suit and we set to work together devising a plan. Of course there were many moments of hysteria: how can we TALK to people? The group worked together to come up with a plan. Those who needed maximum cuing could work on a video-taped interview to reduce their anxiety of speaking publicly. Those who wanted to discuss certain topics live, could. We all role-played for a few sessions on how to introduce yourself, state your message, and answer off-the cuff questions. When we arrived for our first “road show,” I believe I was more nervous than the participants. There was no reason to be. Each participant as well as our graduate students led an important, informative, and inspirational speech to a crowd of 30+ people. And it was beautiful. Not perfect, but exactly the way it needed to be to eloquently and realistically get their points across. I was overwhelmed by how many of those in the audience commented on things they learned and had never heard before that night. Things such as signs of a stroke, which we so often take for granted as public knowledge. As it turned out, the presentation benefitted those in attendance just as much as those who so bravely presented. The next week they all walked into group with an extra pep in their step. The first question asked was where else we could go and speak. The quietest, least confident member exuded pride, and accomplishment. Everyone felt empowered. One member remarked that it reminded her of her “old life” helping other people learn important things (she was a teacher.) It was a turning point in some member’s stages of recovery; a few began to seek out information about volunteering and giving back to the community. Giving a person a voice, or giving their voice back is powerful. It’s vital. And this group is now my concrete proof.