Living with Aphasia: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

For Me, Aphasia Is Like Solving Jig Saw Puzzles with Missing Pieces

When asked what it’s like living with aphasia and trying to speak or write, I describe it by saying that it is like putting together jig saw puzzles with pieces missing. One trouble with both writing and jig saw puzzles is that you usually don’t know pieces are missing until you get pretty far into the process of writing or solving the puzzle. Like most people, I do jig saw puzzles section by section. After I work on a section for a while, sometimes, I get to a particular place and I find a puzzle piece is missing. I can’t find it. It is just not there. I have hundreds of puzzle pieces spread out in front of me. With writing I get to a particular place and I can’t come up with the right word. I have thousands of words running through my mind. Whether with jig saw puzzles or writing, I am shuffling through all those pieces and words, but the right one that perfectly fits in that one place, is not there. What do you do with jig saw puzzles in this situation?
Most people would usually start looking at another part of the puzzle and try to find puzzle pieces that fit into that new part of the puzzle. If I do that enough for a puzzle, I will use up all the pieces that were in the box, and then I would know for certain that a piece or two are missing. After searching the house for the missing pieces, I might get out the other puzzles and see if the pieces got mixed up in those puzzle boxes. After all that, I really only have three choices: 1) pick up the puzzle pieces and put them back in the box and mark the box to indicate that a piece or two is missing; 2) go to one of those websites that advertize that they can replace missing puzzle pieces and purchase new pieces; or 3) pick up the unfinished puzzle and throw it away.
With my writing, I operate similarly. When I find myself stuck on a word, I will finish the remainder of the essay and then come back to the part with the missing word. Sometimes by then I will have found the word. Sometimes I haven’t. At that point of time, I will start searching in earnest through the word helpers like a cross-word dictionary or a thesaurus to try to find the right word or words. If that doesn’t work, I will set the essay aside and come back to it later. If I can’t find the right word or words then, I know at that point it is time to ask someone for help to find the appropriate word or words. That is like going to the puzzle websites to buy missing pieces. If that doesn’t work, I can either put the project aside and wait for a long time before I come back to it, or I trash it and forget about it.
Right now I have five or six projects on my computer that I have started but are in various stages of incompleteness. For the ones that are almost complete, I have sent copies to friends and former colleagues and asked them to review the projects and make suggestions. For the ones that I think still have possibilities but are in a much rougher state, I have set them aside, and I will come back to them off and on, at much later dates. Over the past months, I have looked at several essays that I have started and have decided that they are beyond repair or restoration. I have trashed them. I keep a file of ideas for essays, just the ideas, but not the real rough starts. Perhaps, I will come back to these ideas with a totally different approach at a much later date. This is a whole new way for me to operate, but it permits me to write and still cope with my mild case of aphasia.
If someone else has used the analogy of living with aphasia to missing jig saw puzzle pieces, I apologize for appropriating it. As an academic I have been trained to give credit for ideas to where credit is due. I did what I thought was a fairly exhaustive internet search on this topic and came up with nothing that was similar to the approach that I am taking in this essay. There were references to many exercises in aphasia therapy in which the individual with aphasia is asked to fill in a missing word in a simple sentence or to name a missing object in a simple picture. However, none of them compared the exercise to missing pieces of a jig saw puzzle. There were many references to autism as living with missing puzzle pieces, but none to aphasia that I could find. In dealing with autistic individuals or individuals with aphasia, I would in no way suggest throwing them away. Here is the place for a therapist or a care giver to provide the right degree of challenge and support to help the individual. An essay or a piece of work is far different from and far less valuable than the individual, although, for many of us, we find it difficult to separate ourselves from our work. It is a lesson from which we could all benefit.

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About By Baylis β2

Ph.D. in mathematics; 40 years as an instructor and administrator in Christiian colleges & Universities; principle writer & initial director of critically acclaimed assessment project "Taking Values Seriously:Assessing the Mission of Church-Related Collges." Currently medically retired on disability due to traumatic brain episode which began with a blood vessel in a brain tumor exploding in March 2009, causing the tumor to implode creating many stroke-like symptoms; the remains of the benign tumor removed in March 2009 followed by many months of intenesive therapy that shifted gears when 4 tonic-clonic seizures in December 2009 left me unconscious in the hospitable for four days. I am now diagnosed with aphasia, epilepsy, Atrial Fibrillation, and the beginning stages of Parkinson's. Since I can't work a normal job in higher education, I spend my days reading, thinking and writing about higher education, epilespsy and aphasia. I have a blog, entitled By' Musings, in which I speak about topics of great interest to me: aphasia, epilesy, Parkinson's, higher education and religion. This blog canl be accessed through the URL of which is included in this profile.
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