-- Final Report --
[Released May, 2003]
What is Aphasia?
Aphasia (ah-fay-zhuh) is a communication problem that results after an injury to the brain, often a stroke. Aphasia can affect someone's ability to talk, understand, read and write. These communication problems can be very mild (e.g., trouble finding words) to serious (e.g., unable to speak at all). Aphasia does not affect someone's intelligence or hearing but it does affect their use of language. More than 100,000 Canadians have aphasia. It can be an invisible disability until you start a conversation with someone with aphasia. Aphasia is not a temporary problem but a permanent one. Communication recovery can be life long.
(St. Boniface General Hospital, Winnipeg, Canada)
How Did It Start?
I am Dr. Harold (Hal) May hmay16[insert the @ symbol here]sha.ca. In early October 2002 I was researching the web topic, reading. I noticed a title SPEED READING 4 KIDS being advertised by George Stancliffe <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Stancliffe noted that he had had success with speed reading in dyslexic and A.D.D. children. Because these difficulties are brain related, I immediately wondered if he had any experience with people who have aphasia. I contacted him by e-mail and ordered the material from him on SPEED READING 4 KIDS, which included a chapter (Chapter 8) on teaching speed reading for adults. He indicated that he would be very willing to help us if we would want to design a speed reading program for aphasiacs.
The Program Design
We recruited a volunteer to help us to facilitate the program (Wendy). Also we presented to our aphasia group at St. Boniface hospital the possibility of having a speed reading course as a pilot for trying to overcome aphasia reading problems. Finally Hal, Wendy and George designed a program that would be held twice weekly for two hours daily for six weeks. In that program we would be expected to practice daily, hopefully one hour a day. We would try to implement the Natural Vision techniques which are a part of the Stancliffe materials. We used large-print Reader's Digest magazines for the first two of the learning process. (These were donated to us by the library of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind). The first item on the first meeting agenda was a three minute reading test from one of the articles in the Reader's Digest. We all had a copy of the same article. Every participant used this as the benchmark for their reading speed and comprehension for the start of the program. Comprehension was the arbitrary percentage each reader felt he/she had achieved in retrospect after reviewing the article. We used the Reader's Digest material for our home reading as well as our class activities for the first two weeks.
Similarities In The Group
All participants had stroke/aphasia
All were pre-stroke very avid readers
All were good listeners
All enjoyed challenges
All committed to take home assignments of reading
All enjoyed each others' company, we were known to each other
All of us were easily distracted by noise level and the content of the topics we were reading
Differences In The Group
We had two men and two women in the study group
Topics of interest were varied
Comprehension levels varied greatly
Speed of reading was varied
Wendy naaykens[insert the @ symbol here]mb.sympatico.ca was always emphasizing that we should be using Natural Vision, visualizing what we read, relaxing while reading, practicing daily, following up by re-reading and trying to comprehend more fully what we had read.
At every class she reminded us of the fundamentals of speed reading, often many times during the class. She was always keeping us on task and she was always looking for positive attributes for all of our activities. She took the edge off the times when each of us were feeling agitated, frustrated and low. All the participants felt that she was ideal for our group and that she deserves a citation for her work.
Most of us can spell better as a result of the program
One person speaks with much better control
All of us still have to work greatly at the task of reading
We are now in the process of starting a book club
We now have no doubts of our reading ability
Tapping to increase our speed is really irritating to the reader (this is one of the techniques suggested in Chapter 9)
We can read more without getting tired
Re-reading and discussion is very helpful to comprehension even though done alone
A very well lighted and distraction-free setting is absolutely essential to an aphasiac reader
In our first benchmark reading activity no one read more that 530 words per minute. No one had perceived comprehension over 80 percent. All of us felt frustrated in this activity. The final test showed increases between 100-300 percent in reading speed. Our perceived comprehension was approximately 20 percent higher than the first test.
During the intervening weeks we noticed that our comprehension varied almost directly with our like or dislike of the content we were reading. In terms of retention of what we had read we again varied greatly but if the content was enjoyable the retention rate was very high. One of our major frustrations at the beginning of the plan was that many of us did not retain what we read.
In a post survey, one participant said that when he started the program he felt he could only read just O.K., at the end of the program he perceived his reading capacity as very good and since this activity he has joined a book club. He indicated further that he really hadn't read any books for years since his stroke. One of the women who had noted her capacity as just O.K. at the beginning said she now reads all of the newspaper and can understand it and she is starting to read novels again. Another lady who indicated at the start that she was a poor reader with very low retention or comprehension and retention were markedly increased. She also increased her reading speed by over 300 percent. One said that he can now read his computer and newspaper with ease and enjoys it.
A Few Final Words
While we did not have the benefit of sophisticated techniques of reading experts, we find that again we have a great motivation to read. Our successes in this reading program have led us all to again read in ways that we thought we had lost. In a pragmatic sense we believe the project was successful and beneficial for each of us. Although most of this report could be dismissed as simply anecdotal, WE NOW CAN READ AGAIN. What more can we expect or want.
Any part of this report may be copied with credit to the source.
Special thanks are due to the Manitoba Speech and Hearing Association and the Stroke Recovery Association of Manitoba for the use of office space during our six week speed reading activities.
Copyright 2003, H.E.May.
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