Visual Art

Visual Art and Aphasia

Visual art has always had a home in aphasia treatment beginning with drawing as a means to communicate. How many times have you had to sketch out a quick house when the word “home” won’t come to your lips? Or relied on pictures to point to an image of what you need? Temporary drawings done on a whiteboard or a scrap of paper are art.

But people are also turning to art for physical rehabilitation after a stroke or as a means of expression in conjunction with speech therapy.

No Words Necessary

Pictures can bring relief if you’re experiencing aphasia and struggling to understand the world through words. As Guillermo F. Florez, the filmmaker who created the aphasia film Speechless, states:

Art is a visual means of communication that is accessible for people with aphasia from any walk of life, whether it is rural Chinese citizens in the PhotoVoice project or a university professor like Dr. Steven Nissen, who used painting to express his depression, joy, and earnest to achieve goals after a stroke.

It makes sense that a medium that transcends language––you don’t need to speak Italian to enjoy Michelangelo’s David––would be used to communicate without language. If a picture is worth 1000 words, being able to express yourself with a picture is priceless when you’re experiencing a communication disorder.

Try It Out

There is research that supports the use of art in conjunction with speech therapy. And there are affiliates in our database using art as a form of therapy, such as the Swain Center. Sometimes art is used in place of words. Other times, art is used to stimulate speech, as people describe what they’re creating.

A quick Google search of the terms “art,” “aphasia,” and your area will reveal whether a similar program exists near your home.

If not, you don’t need to wait for a formal program to start incorporating art in your therapy. There are plenty of art apps for mobile devices––from colouring apps to drawing apps––and art supplies and colouring books at craft stores.

Set aside any thoughts about talent and instead focus on how creating art or having your art communicate to another person makes you feel. What are you able to express with images that you can’t express with words? Do some forms of visual art speak to you more than others? If you’re not connecting with one medium, such as drawing, try a different medium such as painting, sculpture, or photography. And if creating art isn’t your thing, you can still make a plan to go to an art museum and look at another person’s artwork. It can be empowering to understand what the artist is trying to convey without using a single word.

Have you ever used art to express yourself?

June is Aphasia Awareness Month. We’re taking this month to look at off-the-beaten-path ways that people are treating aphasia using the fine arts. Whether you’re on the stage, behind the easel, or viewing a sculpture or performance, there are plenty of ways that people are leaning on creativity to help restore speech. This is the first of four posts in this series.



  • Heather Tomlinson
    June 12, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Loved this post and the video! Thanks for sharing it. I am an SLP who works at a community-based rehabilitation program for stroke and brain injury survivors. One of our volunteers designed and piloted a 9-week art group for our clients with aphasia 2 years ago, and it was well-received. Our volunteer planned 6 projects and provided aphasia-friendly instructions.

    We hope to be able to offer this art group again in the future. One of the best features of this project was “Share Day” on the final day. PWA clients invited family members to attend, and they showcased their projects, and taught their family members how to do one of their favourite art projects. This gave PWA a leadership role, which was so empowering. Please reach out if you would like more info on the pARTicipate project!

  • Jeanine Johnson
    June 12, 2019 at 11:24 am

    i like art , it good

  • Carol Klassen
    February 5, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    I work with people with aphasia and have a participant who was/is an artist. She is very keen to run an art class, specifically drawing , for other participants. I would be very interested in learning more about the pARTicipate project that @Heather Tomlinson mentioned in her comment.

    I also loved the video and topics of the three week course!

  • Heather
    March 4, 2020 at 1:49 am

    Carol Klassen,
    Please reach out to me by contacting the number on the Happy to share info on the art group!

  • Julie Nienas
    July 8, 2020 at 10:40 am

    I am an Occupational Therapist working with a aphasic patient who had a TBI 2 years ago. She just shared with me that she loves art and painted and drew before. Would love simple art project ideas. She is now using only her left non dominant hand and has some apraxia. Would love info on any simple successful ideas for projects. Thank you.

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