What if you suddenly lost the ability to speak or understand your native language? It is a frightening prospect, yet 2 million people in the United States suffer from aphasia, a language disorder that affects the ability to produce or understand language, according to the National Aphasia Association. June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, according to Darlene S. Williamson, founder and executive director of the Stroke Comeback Center in Vienna.
The Stroke Comeback Center is a Vienna-based nonprofit organization that provides ongoing classes and other programs in a supportive peer-driven environment that is affordable for all stroke and brain trauma survivors to help recover and achieve their maximum potential.
“Usually, aphasia is the result of a stroke; however, it also can be caused by a traumatic brain injury or other neurological impairment,” Williamson said. “Most people associate stroke with a lack of ability to move or speak, but when the language center is affected, it can affect all four areas of language: speaking, reading, writing and listening/understanding.
“What we want people to remember is that people with aphasia do not lose their intelligence, and it can be very isolating and frustrating for the person experiencing it, as well as frustrating for their loved ones,” she explained.
Williamson is a speech pathologist/therapist by training and was formerly the clinic director at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. She left GWU to start a private practice, where she learned quickly that insurance companies do not cover the long recovery process required for many with aphasia. The result was the creation of the Stroke Comeback Center, which will be bringing its communications support classes into Loudoun County this fall thanks to a grant from 100WomenStrong, a group of residents who have invested in organizations and programs that enrich Loudoun County since 2008. 100WomenStrong leverages its philanthropic resources as a donor-advised fund of the Community Foundation of Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties.
“We know that it can take months and even years to for someone to feel they are really able to manage their communication and physical deficits resulting from a stroke,” Williamson said. “Unfortunately, insurance just doesn’t pay for what they need.”
“People are welcome to come to us for as long as they would like. What typically happens is, when they start, they want to participate in multiple groups—a speaking group, a writing group, a listening group, a reading group, a technology group.”
As she explained, when you use language, you must learn to read it, write it, speak it and listen to it. She also noted that the length of recovery can depend on the severity of the result of the stroke. For example, even if the stroke isn’t huge, if it damages the language center specifically, recovery would take longer.
“Research has shown survivors’ language skills can be improved with treatment and, more than anything, they want to be treated with dignity and respect. Survivors want information and help with their communication that will allow them to be independent and reconnect with their former life.”
Learn more about the Stroke Comeback Center at strokecomebackcenter.org.
This is the first of an occasional series of articles from 100WomenStrong about the 2018 grant recipients. Learn more about the philanthropic group at onehundredwomenstrong.org.