Every Thursday night from 5:30-8:00 PM in the basement of Jordan Hall, the Butler Aphasia Community meets, giving voice to those who are struggling with language and speech and inspiring those striving for a career doing just that.
The program has the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) undergraduates work as a support group for those suffering from aphasia, which is most often caused by a stroke and affects communication abilities. The program is a CSD elective.
“A main identifier of people with aphasia is they can say the words but can’t make the sentences flow,” CSD major Betsy Russo ’17 said. “Or they can say the transitional words but can’t form the sentence.”
Russo will be taking the class next semester after completing the prerequisites and observation hour requirements. She observed the group multiple times in preparation. “It is really awesome to see the individual growth,” she said. “There may be people who recently had a stroke and then people who have been there so long that they can have almost completely normal conversation. It is so inspiring to see the transformation.”
During the first hour, the group meets as a whole. They have a big activity, such as yoga/painting/exercise class, and it is modified for those in wheelchairs from a stroke. Then they split into smaller groups to play games, talk, or do whatever else the group wants to do.
“It is a lot of fun,” group member Madeline Koenig ’17 said. “One of the things we work on is the life participation approach to aphasia (LPAA). It focuses on conversation aspects and gets them back into everyday life and activities.”
Koenig was in the program this semester. Although the program is technically a class, she is going to try to take it again next semester because it directly correlates to what she wants to focus on for the rest of her life. “I genuinely like working with adults,” she said. “It is my passion in our field and this has allowed me to utilize both my knowledge and passion. It really just gets me excited to practice hands-on as a student what I want to do professionally.”
Mary Gospel, Chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders, started the group at Butler four years ago. Since then, there have been 54 clients that have come through the program—almost all of them for more than one semester.
“The opportunity for the students and clients to work together and get to know each other is such a win-win,” she said. “The students benefit and the clients benefit. Also, because clients’ insurance runs out so quickly, we knew there weren’t a lot of options and this was a big need in the community.”
Gospel has volunteered with the Northside Aphasia Support Group since 2001, and it was a big inspiration when creating one at Butler. “In class you learn what aphasia is, but with this you learn what it is like to live with aphasia,” she said.
Koenig said this group has been one of the highlights of her Butler career.
“There aren’t a lot of support groups around, so it is really important that we have one,” she said. “They are such a fun group of people and it couldn’t be a better way to end my Thursdays—doing something fun, and something I want to do when I graduate.”