WMU News

Aphasia awareness emphasized June 19

June 8, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- The little known disorder of aphasia will be in the spotlight during a special event on June 19 at Western Michigan University to help raise public awareness and to educate the public about aphasia.

The WMU Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology is sponsoring the event from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic to commemorate National Aphasia Awareness Month. The clinic is in the University Medical and Health Sciences Center at 1000 Oakland Drive.

John Liechty, who suffers from aphasia, will present a short lecture titled "The Aphasia Prospective: The Future." He is a graduate of Goshen College with a bachelor's degree in social welfare and received a master's in social work from the Kent School of Social Work, University of Louisville, in 1978. For his presentation, he will describe the events following his graduation.

Leichty has been active as an advisory board member and volunteer with the National Aphasia Association and helped form the Goshen, Indiana, Community Aphasia Support Group. He has made presentations on the disorder to a number of regional and national health-related organizations.

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder, usually of sudden onset, which affects a person's ability to communicate. Its primary symptom is difficulty in speaking, while the understanding of speech, reading and writing are also often impaired. People suffering from aphasia often become socially isolated and frequently are misunderstood by people around them.

More than one million Americans have acquired aphasia primarily as a result of strokes, but also from head injuries and other causes. Although there are more people in the United States with aphasia than muscular dystrophy or Parkinson's disease, many people have never heard of aphasia.

The WMU Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and the National Aphasia Association, a non-profit organization of health care professionals, aphasia sufferers and others, hope to improve the quality of life of those who have the disorder through better access to rehabilitation services and community support groups as well as through raising general awareness of it and its symptoms.

The event is sponsored by the department and the Kensel Giddings Advancement of Aphasia Awareness and Education Award. Giddings, a client of the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic, was a lifetime resident of Paw Paw, Mich., and was a general contractor and community volunteer until a stroke in 1984 left him with aphasia and paralysis on his right side. Despite his disability, he remained an active and vibrant family man, relearning drawing, communicating with gestures and pictures, and could still remember favorite hunting trips in Northern Michigan. He continued to be active, collecting World War II artifacts and exhibiting his pencil sketches of Michigan wildlife until a second stroke in 1990.

Through the remainder of his life, he and his wife, Adele, sought assistance for his aphasia in speech and language treatment, in community peer support groups and in artistic expression.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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