Virginia & Mira
Written by Miral Goral, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
I have been a visiting scholar here in Buenos Aires this fall (until now I used to think about May as spring!), and have had the good fortune to work with Professor Virginia Jaichenco and to meet several people with aphasia. In the course of my visit, I asked Virginia to tell me about her path to working with aphasia and about the aphasia community in Buenos Aires. In our conversations, Virginia and I speak both English and Spanish with each other, much like in our joint research project on bilingualism.
Virginia, a lively, friendly, intelligent Porteñn’a – a native of Buenos Aires – began her career as a linguist. Toward the end of her doctoral degree work, she took a seminar with the Argentine neurologist Dr. Juan Enrique Azcoaga, who is one of the founding fathers of neurolinguistics in Argentina. “When I heard about this topic,” Virginia recalls those first lectures on neuropsychology, “I realized that it was for me.” The young professor Jaichenco then started seeing people with aphasia at the newly opened neuropsychology service in Buenos Aires hospitals, and started to teach at the Department of Psychology of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). Following her initiative, the Department of Linguistics at the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, her home department at UBA, started to offer required classes in neurolinguistics, and eventually to offer a specialization in those topics.
Virginia, who just turned 50, is a leading neurolinguist in Buenos Aires. She has regularly taught a number of undergraduate and graduate courses and has guided numerous doctoral students. She is the chief editor of the journal Revista Argentina de Neuropsicología and she is a member of the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Neuropsicologia (SLAN) (http://www.slan.org/home/). SLAN was founded by Dr. Azcoaga and like-minded colleagues, many of whom held a Lurian approach to neuropsychology (and were under threat during the years of the dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Virginia headed the society for several years, and has attended (and has run) their conferences, which take place once every two years in different cities in Latin America. “I was a linguist,” she says, “now I’m a neurolinguist.”
Speech language pathologists are trained here in Argentina with a BA degree in Medicine with a specialization in SLP, including a period of clinical experience. Some continue their education with post-graduate classes. (Virginia teaches many of these classes, including courses in psycholinguistics and the treatment of language disorders). Most people with aphasia have access to treatment, covered under the Obra Sociales (health insurance system). But the number of sessions covered is limited and the services at public hospitals are not always as comprehensive as those provided in private ones. For those who have the resources, inter-disciplinary centers offer rehabilitation programs that include speech-language pathologists, linguists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and other professionals. Treatment is varied, and includes approaches that are psycholinguistically based as well as those that are functional.
From her experience with patients, says Virginia, people with aphasia could benefit from the support of their families and their community and from being included in the social life and the work life around them. She tells me that she always talks to her students about psychological and social aspects of aphasia, which are critical in her view. To counter the potential isolation, people with aphasia in Buenos Aires have formed associations, with the aim of supporting the aphasia community. They meet, organize social activities, and stay in touch. Virginia knows that without such support groups, many people with aphasia might face these dramatic life changes by themselves. She believes such groups should aim to reach out to every person with aphasia, not only those who have the resources to get to the private centers.
The people I have met here, in this fascinating city, have been warm, and very friendly, and this is true also for the people with aphasia I have met. As has been my experience in New York, people with aphasia who used to speak two or more languages before their stroke are eager to regain communication abilities in all their languages. Virginia and I plan to continue our collaboration and our bilingual communication to understand and to promote rehabilitation in multilingual aphasia.