USF Clinic Uses Art As A Means To Help Aphasia Patients Communicate

For people who have suffered an injury to the brain and now experience communication deficits (aphasia), they can receive help at USF Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. The clinic offers a number of programs including Art in Health.

Aphasia most often affects people who have had a stroke, but it can also be as a result of a head injury, brain infection, surgical intervention and progressive neurologic disease such as Parkinson’s.

Cheryl Paul is the Clinical Instructor in Speech Language Pathology at USF. Paul explained, “I always encourage my clients to use any and all communication methods available to them. One avenue is drawing to communicate. When the client cannot say the target word, sometimes they can draw it.”

Paul has a client, Tom Day. Paul said, “I wanted Tom to embrace his drawing skills. He was highly resistant. One Wednesday after his session, I sent him home with a drawing kit and asked him to draw something…anything over the weekend. He returned on Monday with a scene of a small boat under a bridge. It was wonderful. I set about looking for someone on the USF campus who could help him with his art. Eventually, I heard from the folks at Art-in-Health.” It should be noted that Tom Day had never drawn or painted or even expressed an interest before his stroke.

Dolores Coe, an artist and educator from Ruskin, is the Art In Health Studio Instructor and the Arts @ The Clinic Program Coordinator. Coe said, “When I met with Paul and saw Tom’s drawings and observed therapy sessions, I knew that we could provide support for his direction and growing interest—and possibly develop approaches that might benefit others as well. I saw qualities in the drawings and paintings and the way he was taking in information that were quite extraordinary and unexpected in someone who had never had an interest or background.”

With the support of Art in Health, the program (Arts @ The Clinic) was launched. Coe explained, “Arts @ The Clinic is a guided studio based program that meets weekly for two hours. It is open to people with Aphasia, caregivers and clinicians who work with Aphasia clients.

Paul explained how and why this program works. “Most people who are right-handed, the analytical and precise functions of language are centered in the left hemisphere of the brain. When those functions are interrupted by a stroke or injury to the language centers, other parts of the brain may take over a function that is gone.”

Coe added, “For many people with Aphasia, the language centers of the brain are severely impacted, but the centers that are home to visual processes, drawing and symbolic arts are relatively unimpaired. Most people, with or without brain injury, have never really engaged in the development of these capacities. What we know in the arts, and what I have experienced in years of teaching that is supported by science, is that theses capacities can be discovered, developed and lead to learning.”

For more information about the Aphasia Clinic program, please call 974-8844 or email speechclinic@usf.edu. For more information on Arts @ The Clinic or Art in Health, please email Coe at dcoe1@usf.edu.