Learning to Speak at 34

Aphasia really sucks. It's a common stroke results where the survivor loses their ability to speak. They may por may not lose the ability to read, writer, or understand what people are saying. What they keep is the ability to think, create, have ideas, thoughts, emotions, and the entire rich interior life we all have. They just lose the ability to communicate that to others.

You know how frustrating it is when you can't come up with the word you want, but it's right on the tip of your tongue? Now imagine it's like that for every word, from "catamaran" to "the."

Ryan acquired aphasia after his stroke and has been rebuilding his vocabulary word by word. This week Ryan and his wife Anna join us to share their story and talk about their new series of books to help adults learn or relearn to speak.

They make a great team.

(If you don't see the player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/AphasiaReaders)


About Anna and Ryan Teal

Anna and Ryan Teal pose together outside for a selfie. On the left Anna wears a #aphasia tank top. On the right, Ryan wears a green t-shirt

Aphasia Readers was created by husband-and-wife team, Ryan and Anna Teal. Prior to Ryan’s stroke, he was an intelligence analyst, and Anna has an extensive background in marketing.

Ryan had a massive stroke at the age of thirty-four, which left him with aphasia and apraxia. Throughout his recovery, the repetitive practice of reading out aloud seemed to be a tried-and-true form of speech therapy practice with promising results. However, the only books available to practice on a simple level were children’s books. As an adult, reading these types of books felt a little demeaning. Although Ryan and Anna had many good laughs reading aloud about “a trip to grandma’s house,” they quickly realized a need for simple, short readers with adult-themed content to support those in the aphasia community.

After more than a year in the making and extensive collaboration with the renowned Mary A. Rackham Institute University Center for Language and Literacy and input from top neurological teams, they finally wrote their first book of Aphasia Readers for adults. Their ultimate hope is to provide accessible and affordable supplementary speech practice tools for others in the aphasia community to help pave the way for a successful recovery.

Eagle Syndrome

Eagle Syndrome caused Ryan's stroke. It' a fascinating condition. Sometimes it's caused by tonsillectomy or throat trauma. Sometimes, the cause is less clear.

Basically the Styloid bone below the ear grows way bigger than it should. When it does that. Bad things can happen. It can cause throat and mouth pain. It can directly impact or squeeze nerves in the face or neck and cause pain that way.

Or in Ryan's case, the bones ca press against the carotid arteries (two of the four blood vessels that supply the brain) eventually blocking them off and severing the supply of blood. When blood flow to the brain or part of the brain gets blocked, that causes an ischemic stroke.

You can read more about Eagle Syndrome here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321946

Aphasia Readers

The cover of the Aphasia Readers Level 1 book

The Aphasia reader series of books is designed to help adults with aphasia learn to speak again. Anna and Ryan worked with the University of Michigan to validate the product.

The Aphasia Reader addresses the problem of needing simple books for adults to practice reading that aren't kids books. There is already a lot of infantilization that happens to adults when the go into the hospital or become disabled. Reading books about playing with toys or visiting a long deceased grandmother can feel insulting and further grind away at the self-esteem of an adult who finds themselves unable to speak, walk, or feed themselves.

The Aphasia Readers are a skill building alternative. Level 1 came out in 2021. You can find it here on Amazon* or from http://aphasiareaders.com

Levels 2 and 3 will be available sometime in 2022.

Hack of the Week

Ryan and Anna shared two hacks.

Ryan uses Otter.AI or the Google recorder app on his phone to follow conversations. They do voice-to-text conversion so you can get live captions of the conversation you are part of in real time.

This is technology that has come a long way in recent years. By both listening and reading a conversation at the same time, Ryan can more easily process what's being said, especially if the topic changes.

It's similar to watching TV with the closed captions on. I do that because it just makes things easier to follow. It means I'm less distracted by other things and I'm less likely to get lost while watching a program. The dialog and the captions reinforce one another.

(Special note: In my professional life I work as a contract trainer for Microsoft teaching journalists how to use Microsoft 365)

This technology is also available in a lot of online tools. Microsoft Teams includes closed captioning at no charge so you can turn it on and follow along with the speakers in real time. A presenter in PowerPoint can also enable captions (and translation) for their slides as the speak.

At the top of this article there is a link to a transcript of the episode. I create that using this technology. I upload the episode to the web in Microsoft Word and a few minutes later I have a transcript. If you'd like to learn more about that process, you can check out these 5, 90-second videos I created for Microsoft: http://aka.ms/TranscribeinWordOnTheWeb

The second hack they shared was the Fridge Functional Phrases. These are seasonal or event based lists of words or phrases someone with aphasia can practice. And Anna and Ryan put them on the refrigerator door. Every trip to the fridge becomes a chance to sneak a little speech therapy in.

You can find a bunch of their lists at this link or use the idea to make your own.


(If you don't see the list of links below click http://Strokecast.com/AphasiaReaders)

Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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