By Kate Hunger
High school math teacher Simone Bailey has primary progressive aphasia, a disorder that affects speaking and understanding language, as well as reading and writing.
This summer, Bailey attended an adult education program for improving communication skills that the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders hosted on campus. The program was designed for people whose ability to communicate has been affected by stroke, traumatic brain injury, or neurological conditions, including primary progressive aphasia.
Speech-language pathology student Skye Padilla helped Bailey create a notebook of relevant information and brainstorm a list of strategies that would help her in her teaching role.
“It was really interesting to work with Simone and figure out individual strategies to help her,” Padilla said.
For her part, Bailey described her own evolution from not wanting to talk about her diagnosis to letting her colleagues know what helps her communicate better.
“I said, ‘Hey guys, guess what? I need help,’” she said.
In each of the program’s three, two-week sessions, patients and their caregivers spent three to four hours every weekday—30 to 40 hours, in all—engaged in small and large group activities facilitated by speech-language pathology students. The experience was powerful for patients and their caregivers. David Dennard attended a two-week sessions with his wife, Angie, who was smiling and proudly sharing the binder she had made with information about her and photos of her four adult sons and their families. Dennard said Angie spoke more during the program than she had in a long time.
“All the tools we’ve been given this week—what a blessing,” Dennard said. “We feel so welcome.”
Elsa Martinez appreciated the instant sense of community the program provided for her and her husband, Henry, who was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia in November 2017.
“It feels good to know we are all in this together,” she said.
Charades and bingo were among the games students and patients played with a focus on communication. In one group activity, a patient played his guitar and sang when it was his turn to share something about himself. Other members of the group shared photos of their family, and participants cheered and encouraged each other as they shared with the group.
Assistant Professor and program leader Cathy Torrington Eaton, PhD, CCC-SLP, said the program achieved goals for patients and the students who worked with them.
“Our students gained valuable clinical skills, our patients made individual gains on their communication abilities, and everyone benefitted from a positive environment that encouraged personal growth and self-advocacy,” she said.
The program was the first held by the department, and its success was in part because of community partners who helped refer patients, Dr. Eaton said.
“The Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio and the Aphasia Research Treatment lab at UT Austin were great referral sources for our program for patients with primary progressive aphasia,” Dr. Eaton said. “All three programs are contributing to form a local community for patients with primary progressive aphasia and their families.”
The American Stroke Association, organizations affiliated with Veterans Affairs and San Antonio’s local health care providers passed along information for individuals with communication disorders related to stroke or traumatic brain injury, she said.
Students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders also participated in a program providing pediatric speech, hearing, language and literacy screenings this summer.
“Programs such as these allow the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders to remain connected to our community, their needs and experiences so that we can train the future generation of speech-language pathologists to be able to identify and meet those needs,” said Angela Kennedy, SLP-D, CCC-SLP, assistant professor and director of clinical education for the department.
For information about next year’s adult summer communication program, email CSD-SLP@uthscsa.edu.