Communicating With People Who Have Aphasia

The impact of aphasia on communication may be profound or slight. No two people with aphasia are alike. Aphasia can affect the ability to use language in all its forms, including both the ability to express and the ability to understand speech, gesture, and writing. However, with engaged listeners and proper conversational support, people with aphasia can be excellent communicators. One of the best ways to improve your communication skills is to educate yourself about aphasia. There is a wealth of information at the National Aphasia Association website.

Try these tips:

1. Be respectful. Know that the person is intellectually competent and fully capable of participating in conversation. Conversation topic, interaction style, and volume of speech should not be influenced by the fact that the person has aphasia.

2. Address the person with aphasia directly. Be sure you do not ask others to speak for him or her.

3. Take the time to listen. People often feel urged to rush conversation and to avoid silence, something that leads to misunderstanding or failure to notice the other person’s point of view. By slowing down you have an opportunity to make interactions more meaningful, including those with people who have aphasia.

4. Verify your comprehension. If you are unsure you have understood the person with aphasia correctly, simply state what you understood the message to be and give him or her an opportunity to clarify or correct.

5. Let the person with aphasia tell you if he or she needs help, and what kind of help he or she prefers. Avoid speaking for the person with aphasia except when necessary, and always ask permission before doing so.

6. Supplement spoken conversation with gestures, drawing, and by writing some of the most important words as they come up. People with aphasia can use similar techniques to help them find words.

7. Be mindful about background noise (such as television, radio, or other people). It is usually a good idea to minimize these distractions.

“Of all the gifts bestowed upon humanity, the ability to communicate is one of the most important. Any impairment of this ability can have far-reaching consequences, affecting every aspect of a person’s life, from learning, to work to interactions with family, friends, and community.” -American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA)