Nonverbal language therapy for stroke victims

Updated February 21, 2017

Each year over 700,000 people suffer a stroke, according to a 2007 estimate by the American Stroke Association. Aphasia is a disorder that occurs following a stroke and causes an individual to lose his ability to communicate. The extent of the damage caused by aphasia varies, but for many of these people the only chance to communicate effectively again will be to undergo nonverbal language therapy.

Types of Aphasia

There are three types of aphasia, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include nonfluent, fluent and global. People with nonfluent aphasia speak in short sentences and often leave words out. For these people, it is a struggle just to say a word. On the other hand, people with fluent aphasia speak in long complex sentences, but the sentences are generally nonsensical. People with global aphasia are often unable to speak at all.

Communication Board

Communication boards are boards that contain all the letters of the alphabet, common words or phrases and pictures of common items or actions. A stroke survivor can use a communication board by pointing to the various letters to spell words, or to the pictures to communicate an idea.

Communication boards are commonly made by friends or family in order to customise the board to meet the stroke survivors needs. Some companies also sell communication boards. Moreover, a therapist may be able to work with the stroke survivor to use the communication board effectively. This is particularly important if the stroke survivor has limited movement in his hands, cannot spell, or simply wants to speed up the communication process.

Sign Language

American Sign Language is similar in structure to spoken language and is conveyed through hand movements. Often, a speech-language pathologist will teach a stroke survivor how to gesture effectively in order to communicate. This may include teaching the stroke survivor sign language. While this is an option for some, a study conducted the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, found that the left side of the brain is used for spoken language as well as sign language. Consequently, depending on the extent of the damage, individuals who have suffered a stroke which has impaired their ability to speak may also have difficulty or be unable to learn sign language.

Dog Therapy

The presence of a dog during therapy session may improve both overt social-verbal and social-nonverbal communication skills in stroke survivors suffering from aphasia, according to a study published in 2006 by the Journal of Communication Disorders. The study, however, included only one individual and thus the authors note that more research is needed.

Support Groups

A support group provides a real life setting where stroke survivors can work on the nonverbal language skills that they learnt in therapy. Support groups are particularly beneficial because they offer a nonjudgmental and patient environment. Moreover, stroke survivors often can pick up tips from other similarly situated individuals. To find a stroke support group or an aphasia support group near you, see the link below.

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About the Author

Thomas King is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he served as managing editor of the "Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law." He currently lives in Aberdeen, Washington where he writes and practices law.