North Raleigh: Community

Triangle Aphasia Project hopes to empower those who can’t find their words – Wiggins

Imagine there’s a file cabinet in your head. In it is stored all the words you know and love and use to communicate daily, with everyone, about everything. They’re all in place, each organized by its grammatical nuances and ready to grab and speak, read or write.

Suddenly, though, the file cabinet tips over, scattering all the words you know and love and use onto the floor in front of you, disorganized and unreachable. Cognitively, you’re intact. So is your intellect. You know what you want to say and how you should say it, but you can’t access the right words in the right way to utter the words, or sometimes read or write them.

That’s what it’s like for someone who rises from a stroke or other brain injury with aphasia, a mild to severe communication disorder that disrupts a person’s ability to use or understand words, said speech pathologist Maura English Silverman, founder and executive director of Triangle Aphasia Project, or TAP.

According to the National Aphasia Association, it’s reality for 40 percent of stroke survivors.

The result, Silverman said: About 92 percent of people with aphasia consider themselves socially isolated. Approximately 70 percent will never return to work, she added.

“Frustrating” is how it’s described to Silverman by TAP clients and her own mother, who in 2009 suffered a stroke that left her with aphasia six years after her daughter founded TAP.

As heath care restraints grow and services are reduced for people with brain injuries – and many others – TAP works with the community and speech specialists to find innovative ways to help its clients re-enter life empowered by purpose, support and opportunities to fulfill their passions.

On June 7, TAP will debut Aphasia Connects, a health initiative designed as a bridge for people with aphasia to re-engage in the community, improve individual competence and boost confidence in social settings.

TAP also will host its signature fundraising event, Flashback Friday, on June 23 from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Cypress Manor on Buck Jones Road in Raleigh.

Proceeds from Flashback Friday will help TAP clients and families through scholarships, programming, training and expanded services.

Aphasia Connects is a partnership with Read and Feed, a nonprofit created in 2007 to give low-income children access to books, mentors and meals by way of mobile classrooms and 26 additional program sites in Wake County Communities in Schools and churches.

The summer partnership will pair TAP clients with Read and Feed students – and their mentors – twice a week for reading, activities and communication powered by awareness, education and training.

The project is possible because of a $25,000 grant the community-based nonprofit was awarded by the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation’s The Ribbon of Hope program.

Not only is the intergenerational aspect of Aphasia Connects important, so too are the benefits to TAP clients and their families, and Read and Feed students, their families and mentors.

“The partnership with The Ribbon of Hope program aims to impact those with aphasia by decreasing a sense of social isolation and improving one’s sense of self-worth,” Silverman said.

The collaboration is a good match for Read and Feed’s goals, too, said Heather Cross, the organization’s volunteer and program director.

Not only is the partnership with its next-door neighbor valuable, it will be a mirror for both TAP clients and the mostly grade-level-behind elementary-age children Read and Feed helps iron out challenges with their ability and confidence with language and reading.

“A majority of our students are second-language learners who are experiencing similar language challenges as TAP clients,” Cross said.

With a goal to get students reading “and keep them reading,” Read and Feed gives away 30,000 books each year to Wake children, she said.

“The kids will get a kick out of this,” Cross added. “They will recognize they’re playing a role in how the aphasia clients feel about themselves and in helping to build their confidence.

“This is a unique opportunity for us.”

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