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How to Give Communication Cues to Someone with Aphasia to Help Find the Word They Need

Constant Therapy | Aphasia

There are few things more frustrating than to know exactly what you want to say, but to not be able to say it. In everyday life, people without communication disorders have that “tip of your tongue” feeling, but for people with communication disorders, like aphasia, that feeling can be eternal — an all-day, unending difficulty.

It’s tempting for communication partners to just give the person the word they want, and in emergencies and times of great hurry, this does need to happen. However, when possible, letting the person with aphasia work their own way to the word they want is the ideal.

But how do you do that?

That’s when cues come in. Cues are basically hints, but very strategic ones. There are different kinds of cues that you can give. Some cues work better than others, and it depends on the person. One person with aphasia might respond to gestural cues immediately while another person with aphasia might respond better to sound cues. It just depends on which part of their language is stronger and can help out the other parts.

First, before you say anything, the most respectful thing to do is ask the person with aphasia if they would like more time or if they would like help. Not everyone likes cues and you should never assume that someone does. Try to do a mental count to 10 before you even say anything!

Types of Communication Cues for Someone with Aphasia

  • Gestural Cues – think charades for this type of cue. Maybe you could pretend to eat, or pretend to cut with a knife to help your communication partner with aphasia think of the words “eat” or “knife”. These cues are also great for persons with aphasia to use themselves. A gesture is still communication and can often be faster and less frustrating.
  • Sound Cues – for this type of cue you give the first few sounds in the target word. For example, if you were cueing for “desk”, you would say “de…” Again, this works better for some than others, so don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t immediately work.
  • Meaning Cues – this type of cue involves describing the target word. Think about these factors in describing a word: what category is it in? what color is it? what is it made of? what texture is it? what do you do with it or use it for? are there any items or actions that go with it? For example, if I were trying to get someone to think of “baseball”, I might say “a bat hits this”, or “the Red Sox are the best team that plays this sport”. Make sure you don’t give cues too quickly when you do this. Give the person a moment to process before giving another cue.

Not only can it be really gratifying for a person to say the word themselves, it is also strengthening the pathways to words, and how they are connected with other words, gestures, and sounds. So give it a try, and see which cue works best for you or your loved one with aphasia.

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