Aphasia and Dysphagia in the Classroom
Dysphasia is a language disorder which is often called aphasia in the medical world to prevent confusion with a similar term dysphagia, a swallowing disorder. Aphasia then is the more commonly used term for a speech impairment which can vary from no speech at all, to a difficulty in naming some objects. Its more usual incidence is among adults who have suffered from stroke or other brain injury. Depending on the area and extent of the brain damage a person may be able to read but not write, or vice versa, able to sing but not to speak. The prognosis of those with aphasia varies widely and all too often, has been confused with other childhood learning disabilities such as deafness or autism.
Aphasic children may have problems with the syntax and semantics of the language or may not be able to perceive the sounds of the words. Early identification of the condition is essential as the long-term consequences of aphasia on school achievement are disturbing. Most aphasic children fail to complete their education, and even those who eventually recover may be unable to catch up on lost ground. To help the child in the classroom it is essential to identify as early as possible the exact processing dysfunction as the problem can first show itself by inattention in class and reading comprehension difficulties, often assumed to be behavioral problems or attention disorders.
Children with aphasia have difficulty in talking, understanding, listening, writing or doing numerical calculations. Despite this they can think clearly and understand their feelings as aphasia affects the communication and not the intellect of the aphasia sufferer. Speech therapy is an effective option to improve communication and in the classroom environment they need quiet surroundings, and a teacher who communicates slowly, clearly and repetitively, using gestures and pictures to aid communication.
It can get very difficult arranging for the education of a young person with aphasia. School systems are already stretched to the limit and time and money decide what sort of accommodations can be made. Federal law requires that students with special needs receive an individualized curriculum which is worked out with input from teachers, therapists (if required), the student and the family. With teachers well-trained in language-based learning disabilities and intensive speech and language therapy, aphasic children can make significant recoveries. The challenge in a classroom setting is to integrate the student into the classroom culture as smoothly as possible.
Remembering that the aphasic child is not intellectually impaired and can become easily frustrated, disappointed or even angry at his or her failure to communicate, teachers must keep communication simple but adult. Simplify sentence structure and reduce the rate of speech, avoiding speaking for the aphasic student and encouraging all other modes of expression - writing, drawing, choices, gestures, yes/no responses. Encourage the aphasic student to be as independent as possible and avoid being overprotective.
Specialized online resources for teachers are somewhat sparse but the National Aphasia Association is a clearing house of information and records some inspiring stories of students born with aphasia, yet who graduated from college and went on to lead normal, happy and productive lives.