The skills I gained from years of teaching helped me devise speech therapy skill-builders that John and I could do on our own. Because John had been a teacher, he knew that learning was about “practice” and he was eager and willing to practice these early skill-building tools. When John had his stroke in 1991, we were immediately grateful that we knew both knew how to learn a new skill. It was a great blessing because having these skills ourselves, meant that we did not have to pay others to learn everything. Our home devised learning supplemented the two-three times a week with a professional therapist.
I had a very simple thought process right from the beginning of our journey to recovery for John. His speech was severely compromised in that he could only say two curse words for 6 months. My innate sense was that since his brain was so damaged, it stood to reason that all of the skills needed to develop speech as a child would have to be re-developed. Thus, I looked for ways to develop visual and spatial skills, recognition skills like items, pairs, and colors, and completion skills like matching the second half of an item to the first half, visually.
Here are three ways I helped John relearn those types of skills.
- Visual Spatial skills: I did this by lighting a candle and asking him to blow it out, over and over again. This helped him spatially move his body and face towards the candle. It also helped him take a breath and form a column of air with his mouth and lips to push towards the flame. He developed mental focus on a task.
- Recognition skills:
- Skill A: I had a series of reading workbooks meant for beginning readers. They had large letters on the page. I asked him to circle all of the letter “a’s” on the page with a red marker. I started with one letter per page. This was tremendously difficult for him at first. As he progressed, I would add two, then three letters per page. Once he could do this, I asked him to find a simple word like “and” on the page and circle it. This is a developmental tool than can easily be done at home. It helps mental focus and recognition of individual parts and combinations of letters.
- Recognition skill B was “color”. I taught him this while we went for walks around the neighborhood with him in his wheelchair. I gave John a set of eight large marking pens, each a different color. Then when I would find a purple flower along the route, I would ask him to show me the marker that matched the color of the flower. This developed his concentration skills because he had to focus on the color of the flower and identify the color. Then it developed his memory as he had to look at the markers in his hand and remember what color the flower was. The third task was to pick up the right colored marker and show it to me. This task may seem simple, but it requires that the brain do three separate tasks in a sequence. John lost all his sequencing skills in his stroke.
- Completion skills: John and I used a toy called a Magnadoodle to relearn completion skills. If you remember the old Etch-A-Sketch toy, then you’ll understand that this toy worked similarly. It had iron chips under a screen. Only instead of dials, there were small magnets with holders on them. You could draw on the screen with the magnets and the iron chips would come to the screen and stay until they were erased. I drew a vertical line in the middle of the screen from top to bottom. Then I would draw half of a simple shape on one side of the line. It was John’s task to look at the “half” item, figure out what it was, and then draw the other half of the item on his side of the screen. This developed his ability to look at an item and analyse what it was. Then he had to hold the magnet tool in his now only good hand, his left, and draw the other half of the item, matching the lines on my side of the vertical line. Drawing what he analyzed was initially an incredibly difficult task for him. However, the skills developed here went a long way towards reorganizing his brain to learn to speak again.
These are only a few of the tools you can do at home to help redevelop a brain to speak. If you had children, just think of all of the games you played with them. Then devise ways to re-create those games with your adult stroke survivor. Of course we all know all strokes are different. Each of us must find our own way to help ourselves, long after the insurance paid therapy ceases.
If you would like additional speech therapy help from home, try online learning at: https://goo.gl/yNPvJW.
For more information about the book, see my personal website at http://www.dontstopthemusic.co
Nancy is on Twitter @wecknan