Aphasia is caused by an injury to one or more of the language areas of the brain – most commonly as a result of stroke. It dramatically affects conversational interaction (talking and understanding) and the ability to read and write. Without the ability to participate in conversation, every relationship, every life role, and almost every life activity is at risk. Individuals usually experience a loss of self-esteem, and feelings of social isolation.
People living with aphasia may also face barriers to health care and other services. Meeting that challenge is about ensuring individuals gain “communicative access” so they can receive service, give and get information and make informed decisions.
The Aphasia Institute’s activities are in those areas where we can make the most difference. We provide direct service, offer education, and carry out research. We work with individuals living with aphasia, their families, related professionals, and the wider community. Our programs strengthen the services in the health care system that most support people with aphasia and their families. In addition, we strive to increase public awareness of aphasia.
The Aphasia Institute relies on different sources of funding. The Central Local Health Integration Network (Central LHIN) supports our work to provide direct services. Other sources are research grants, the City of Toronto, donations, and earned revenue through training.
The Synergy of Our Work
A framework guides the professional work of the Institute in supporting people with aphasia. It is Living with Aphasia: Framework for Outcome Measurement (A-FROM).1 This framework focuses on progress that makes a difference to the everyday experience of individuals with aphasia and their families. It affirms the client as best able to judge what is a ‘‘meaningful’’ life change for him or her.
Three core activities dynamically relate to one another. This ‘synergy’ enables the Institute to
make the broadest possible impact.
These core activities entail the following:
Direct service: The Institute seeks to provide exceptional client service to members with aphasia and their families. Beginning with initial assessment and then communication support and training, we help individuals with aphasia achieve their “life participation goals”. This means emphasizing their re engagement in life by strengthening their daily participation in activities of choice.
Research and Development: What we learn from the lived experience of our clients with aphasia and their families is the foundation upon which solutions are developed, evaluated and shared. The Institute’s research projects aim to advance understanding of what is effective in aphasia communication support. We pursue our own research initiatives, conduct research and consult with others. Research projects test new approaches, tools and products that better enable us to evaluate our own programs. The Institute is committed to using evidence both in our direct service work and organizational decision-making.
Education and Training: The Institute trains families, health professionals, and others in how best to work with people with aphasia to help them overcome communication barriers. We teach health care professionals — particularly in the area of stroke care — how to increase their clients’ ability to access their services. We show them how they can apply our techniques in clinical situations such as assessment, counselling, and group therapy. Resources, materials and manuals are provided in many of the workshops. All sessions are accredited courses as approved by the Continuing Education Board of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Founded in 1979 by Pat Arato, the Aphasia Institute is a Canadian community-based centre of excellence, pioneering programs and practices that help people with aphasia learn how to communicate in new ways and begin to navigate their own lives again. Through direct service, research, education and training, the Aphasia Institute has built an international reputation as a world leader and educator in aphasia.
Over the thirty years of its existence, the Aphasia Institute has demonstrated an ability to improve quality of life for those living with aphasia and other language disorders. We have developed an extensive resource of pictographic material specifically designed to help individuals with aphasia to have meaningful conversations on topics ranging from the mundane and everyday e.g., related to activities of the day, to the abstract e.g., desire for independence.
Our approach recognizes that having a meaningful conversation means more than pointing to simple pictures of objects. The Aphasia Institute has developed training and educational materials to help healthcare providers, people with aphasia, their families and friends engage in meaningful conversations. The method is called Supported Conversation for Adults with Aphasia (SCA™), an evidence-based communication method, developed specifically for people who have had a stroke and are living with aphasia. This method has application for other populations such as individuals with early dementia, for whom English is a second language, have hearing loss or motor speech difficulties.
The Aphasia Institute is proud of its ability to give the gift of conversation to ‘those who know more than they can say’ and is grateful to the staff, volunteers and students whose efforts make this possible and to the Ontario Central Local Health Integration Network and the Ministry of Health for their funding support.
1 Kagan, A., Simmons-Mackie, N., Rowland, A., Huijbregts, M., Shumway, E., McEwen, S., Threats, T., & Sharp, S. (2007). Counting what counts: A framework for capturing real-life outcomes of aphasia intervention. Aphasiology, 22(3), 258-280.