I began volunteering with the communication group ‘Moving On’ at City Lit in September 2015. The group supports people with aphasia (language impairment caused by injury to the brain). The weekly sessions are structured such that a broad topic allows the students to explore aspects they choose whilst encouraging interaction using different methods of communication such as speech, writing, gesture, sign and role-play. The group is led by a speech and language therapist and two volunteers support the sessions. Volunteers are carefully recruited and must have a keen interest in communication and preferably a desire to pursue a career in speech and language therapy. For me, this was the perfect opportunity to gain additional experience and learn more about aphasia whilst working alongside a speech and language therapist (SLT).
The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke but others are head injury, infection and a brain tumour. Aphasia can affect production or comprehension: the ability to speak or understand speech, and the ability to write or read. The language difficulty experienced depends on the area of the brain which has been affected. Connect’s website suggest there are an estimated 250,000 people with aphasia in the U.K. Most of the people I met had aphasia caused by a stroke. I came to this group knowing very little about aphasia, also referred to as dysphasia. The Stroke Association describe a stroke as a ‘brain attack’ which occurs either when arteries become blocked preventing blood from reaching the brain (Ischaemic stroke) or when bleeding occurs in or surrounding the brain (a Haemorrhagic stroke). There are different types of aphasia such as Wernicke’s Aphasia (receptive), Broca’s Aphasia (expressive), Global Aphasia, and Anomic Aphasia - see links below for more information.
I committed to working with the group for two terms and that time has now come to an end. What I have learnt and the confidence I have gained in working with people with communication difficulties associated with aphasia will help me in my speech and language studies. I too am ‘moving on’ as I prepare for returning to study on the MSc Speech and Language Sciences at University College London. Having worked as a British Sign Language interpreter since 2001, I have decided to retrain as a SLT. I spent a number of years gaining experience, firstly in education as I considered the idea of retraining as a Teacher of the Deaf before a colleague suggested I look into speech and language therapy. I came to sign language interpreting because of my interest in communication and language (some interpreters have deaf family members or friends, others may have previously worked with deaf people, or like me, have an interest in language). As an undergraduate linguistics student, I had a part-time job (bingo-caller) and one evening after finishing work the ‘party-bingo’ staff went to the pub. One of the regulars was a deaf man and on this evening he was there with his girlfriend (hearing). Later in the evening, his ex-girlfriend (deaf) arrived at the pub and shortly afterwards the two woman had what I thought was the most beautiful, blazing row. And there began my fascination with signed languages. I enrolled on a Stage One course at the local college and the rest as they say is history. I really enjoy my interpreting work and will continue this part-time but I also want a career where I am not impartial and where I can directly contribute. I am also keen to explore other areas of communication.
What really appeals to me is the diversity of speech and language therapy work. I attended the two-day course ‘Speech and Language Therapy as a Career’ at City Lit in September 2015 which confirmed my decision. I am fortunate to have gained a place at UCL on their two-year MSc. This is also the last year the course fees for home and EU students will be funded by the NHS. I have kept a journal throughout my shadowing and observations and on reflection have noted how frequently speech and language therapy appears in the media. The final episode of BBC One’s drama, ‘The A word’ was broadcast on Wednesday evening and throughout the six episodes we have followed four-year old Joe and his extended family and the impact his communication difficulties and his autistic spectrum diagnosis have had on the family. Episode three was the most interesting for me as we saw the SLT working with Joe. Last May, the Channel Four programme, ‘Born Naughty?’ explored whether some children are born naughty or if there is some underlying condition responsible for their behaviour. In the second episode, Dr Jayaram visits three-year old Jessi-Jai and her mother who describes her daughter’s difficult behaviour including her refusal to sit at the dinner table, kicking, screaming, destroying things and how she makes noises but her speech development does not match that of her peers. Following his observation, Dr Jayaram states that Jessi-Jai has ‘good imaginative play’ but suggests involving a SLT. When Helen Gill (SLT) visits to assess the whole process of communication her observations are enlightening. She identifies features including Jessi-Jai’s absence of social checks (where we look at the person we are interacting with), repetition (echolalia) and how she has learnt basic social interaction (greetings) and what may look like imaginative play in fact lacks flexible, extended play. Last month, BBC Two’s three-part series ‘Employable Me’ followed people with a neurological condition, Tourette’s or autism, in their efforts to gain employment. With this coverage brings awareness and one would hope an understanding of these communication and language difficulties.
As I am preparing this blog, I have been informed that the speech therapy department at City Lit have nominated me as a remarkable speech therapy learner following my attendance on their Speech and Language Therapy as a Career Course. I am delighted and it marks an exciting time moving on.
City Lit Total Communication Group: Moving On
Connect have a free downloadable Aphasia Information Pack which I found useful.
Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
RCSLT have a useful guide for potential students: ‘A career in speech and language therapy’.