sign language

Sign Language and Aphasia

One of the first questions I asked when learning about aphasia was if aphasia affects sign language. Meaning, is manual language affected in the same way as spoken or written communication? Moreover, can people use sign language to communicate after a brain injury?

Lauren Marks tackles this idea in her new book, A Stitch of Time.

Sign Language Class

Lauren writes on page 166 about starting signing classes at the recommendation of her speech therapist. Her teacher is deaf, the students are not. She writes,

The first day was full of fumbling. She passed around worksheets with the American Sign Language alphabet, instructing the class to try asking and answering questions while practicing their fingerspelling. She communicated by writing on the blackboard, though all of us struggled with her rule of not asking questions aloud, especially with her back turned. The protocol made perfect sense, but took a little getting used to.

Lauren muddles through the questions, fingerspelling to her teacher that she is there to learn the language due to aphasia after an aneurysm. Over time, she begins to get more proficient in fingerspelling and sign, coming to understand “that language and gesture had a lot in common” (p. 168).

The Brain and Language

The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Communication has an interesting article on what is happening in the brain when a person is learning or using sign language. It contains an important question:

We have noted that patients with damage to Broca’s area can often gesture communicatively. Does this mean that a visual–gestural language may be unaffected, if there is brain damage to this region?

It comes down to the location of the brain injury. Researchers studied six cases of stroke in deaf people who use sign language to communicate. Those who sustained damage in the left hemisphere of the brain had trouble forming language. This is similar to those with Broca’s aphasia. Those with damage to the left temporal lobe had difficulty understanding language. This is similar to those with Wernicke’s aphasia. But people who had damage on the right hemisphere did not experience trouble understanding or using sign language.

We’d love to hear from speech-language pathologists who use sign language in their treatment plan. Or have you used sign language to help treat your aphasia?

Image: Butupa via Flickr via Creative Commons license

Comments

8 Comments

  • Nina
    August 17, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Signed language will be 😊

  • Nina
    August 17, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Signed language will be good 😊

  • Jean Tuggle
    August 18, 2017 at 6:01 am

    I have not a comment for now!

  • Anonymous
    August 28, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I work extensively with the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community. Through work, I met a mother of a deaf woman. The mother is hearing, in her mid-40’s but suffered a stroke two years ago. She lost her ability to speak and read with comprehension. She can write but spells incorrectly. Her right arm is unusable and her right leg causes her to limp due to the stroke. A few days after her stroke, she was able to say the word “one.” Amazingly, it is her facial expressions that are so strong that she can express her thoughts and feelings clearly while only repeating the word “one” over and over again. Now, two years later, she has learned some signs to better communicate. Her word bank has improved so that she is now able to use three to four word sentences. Sometimes her word choices frustrate her because they are not what she meant to say. However, she will sign accurately the choice word she wants to communicate. It has been amazing to see her progress. After her stroke, it is understandable that her learning any language takes more effort than it would a person who has not had a stroke. But this attests to the use of sign as a means of communicating with someone who has lost their fluency in communicating verbally.

  • CP
    August 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    I work extensively with the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community. Through work, I met a mother of a deaf woman. The mother is hearing, in her mid-40’s but suffered a stroke two years ago. She lost her ability to speak and read with comprehension. She can write but spells incorrectly. Her right arm is unusable and her right leg causes her to limp due to the stroke. A few days after her stroke, she was able to say the word “one.” Amazingly, it is her facial expressions that are so strong that she can express her thoughts and feelings clearly while only repeating the word “one” over and over again. Now, two years later, she has learned some signs to better communicate. Her word bank has improved so that she is now able to use three to four word sentences. Sometimes her word choices frustrate her because they are not what she meant to say. However, she will sign accurately the choice word she wants to communicate. It has been amazing to see her progress. After her stroke, it is understandable that her learning any language takes more effort than it would a person who has not had a stroke. But this attests to the use of sign as a means of communicating with someone who has lost their fluency in communicating verbally.

  • Nanette Turner
    September 3, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    I learned sign language when I was in my early 20’s & in the Army. Later in life I worked mainly with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at a State run school for the Deaf and the Blind. When I began to get comfortable with using ASL again I found it MUCH better for communication means with the many around me who signed. I did have problems with Aphasia when signing like forgetting what words I was going to say but I could laugh it off and say my mind was going faster than my hands could move. It seemed more acceptable among that community than in the hearing community in which I live. In the hearing community I feel awkward when my words fail me but luckily I am blessed with a husband who is willing to help with my forgotten words or at least politely prompt me to remember where I was going (with my sentence)

  • Suzanne
    September 12, 2017 at 2:59 am

    I did my masters in communication disorders at St. Louis University in 1978 . I was fascinated by American Indian handtalk – AmerInd Madge Skelly. We had amazing outcomes with our aphasia patients in USA , UK and Australia.

  • Anonymous
    September 20, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I have several clients that have aphasia due to ALS, CVA and dementia. I am curious if anyone has tried to teach sign language to folks with this disability…or does it depend on the area of the brain affected?

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