Students playing games using their non-dominant hands, partners working together to find locations on a map, students and their partners creating beautiful works of art—this is the new Butler Aphasia Community.
About 11 students in Butler University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Department began working with Indianapolis residents afflicted with aphasia—impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words, usually as a result of a stroke or other brain injury—on Feb. 14.
The clients come to Butler’s campus to meet with the students in the CSC clinic in Jordan Hall every Thursday evening. The Butler Aphasia Community provides a place for aphasia patients to practice the skills they have learned in therapy following a stroke.
“Usually there’s nowhere to go once therapy has ended, so this allows students to get experience working with patients,” CSD instructor Mary Gospel said. “They essentially help the patients re-enter their lives.”
A person with aphasia may have difficulty retrieving words and names or following a conversation, but their intelligence is basically intact. The Butler Aphasia Community offers student-run entertainment and learning activities that provide opportunities for 18-24 people with chronic aphasia to communicate in a comfortable and encouraging atmosphere.
Butler Art and Physical Education students and faculty also lead and organize activities with the clients.
Gospel received a $3,000 seed grant for the pilot program, as well as $2,250 from the Indiana Campus Compact, and $750 from Butler University, to begin developing the Butler Aphasia Center.
Over the past 10 years, close to 100 Butler CSD students have attended a local aphasia support group’s monthly meetings, to play games and converse with the clients. Gospel usually expects students to attend at least one support group meeting, but many have continued attending.
“The clients are the teachers of our students,” Gospel said.
According to Gospel, it is unusual for communication sciences and disorders undergraduate students to have so much hands-on experience working and interacting directly with clients. The Butler Aphasia Community allows more interaction between clients and students and gives students valuable experience with clients.
Every meeting also includes time for conversation when clients can tell their partners about their lives and their recovery.
“Clients’ honesty and bravery has added a new dimension to the students’ education,” Gospel said. “In return, students have given back by attending clients’ knitting groups, taking valentines to their nursing homes, and having dinner with them.”