Communication Circle for Dysarthria In fall 2004, I began to show signs of slow and slurred speech, which was later identified as dysarthria. The following year I saw several neurologists who quickly ruled out stroke, but I would not receive a diagnosis until three years later. As a self-employed consultant and trainer, I knew ... First Person on the Last Page
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First Person on the Last Page  |   October 01, 2010
Communication Circle for Dysarthria
Author Notes
  • Paul Walsh, is a former IT consultant specializing in technical writing and training. He is assisting in the development of a website that offers tools for forming a communication circle. Contact him at paulfpwalsh@gmail.com.
    Paul Walsh, is a former IT consultant specializing in technical writing and training. He is assisting in the development of a website that offers tools for forming a communication circle. Contact him at paulfpwalsh@gmail.com.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Dysarthria / First Person on the Last Page
First Person on the Last Page   |   October 01, 2010
Communication Circle for Dysarthria
The ASHA Leader, October 2010, Vol. 15, 39. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.15122010.39
The ASHA Leader, October 2010, Vol. 15, 39. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.15122010.39

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In fall 2004, I began to show signs of slow and slurred speech, which was later identified as dysarthria. The following year I saw several neurologists who quickly ruled out stroke, but I would not receive a diagnosis until three years later. As a self-employed consultant and trainer, I knew that speech was essential to my work. I was concerned about my symptoms, but I learned to speak slowly to articulate and be better understood from Bonnie Bereskin, a speech-language pathologist at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital.
In June 2008, after experiencing sudden onset of stiffness in my leg muscles and signs of imbalance, I was finally diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare, incurable brain disease that combines symptoms of Parkinson’s disease with cerebellar ataxia and autonomic failure. MSA is so rare that many cases are diagnosed wrongly as Parkinson’s disease. Dysarthria had been my presenting symptom.
I learned that the only way to “manage” MSA was to manage the symptoms. In fall 2009, my speech was deteriorating, so I returned to Bereskin. She challenged me on two fronts: to blog my experience and to form a “communication circle” to intensify my speech treatment. The key objectives for the communication circle were to improve speech volume and articulation and to ensure social support and interaction when communication and mobility issues might otherwise result in withdrawal.
When a life-changing event affects quality of life, friends often ask, “What can I do?” The communication circle provided a real opportunity to help. I e-mailed family and friends, asking for volunteers to spend 40 minutes each month coaching me through speech exercises. I needed 16–18 volunteers, but received 30 “count me in” responses! Family and friends said it was an opportunity to learn speech treatment concepts and to help me at the same time. Bereskin trained all my volunteers in one energized evening.
After two months of intensive speech intervention, my voice was stronger and my articulation was clearer. As an unexpected bonus—my drooling stopped! The entire communication circle plans to meet three times a year so that Bereskin and the volunteers can share experiences and fine-tune the treatment approach.
Where am I now? Nine months into the program, my speech is definitely stronger and my friends are even more committed. MSA continues its inexorable march, but I intend to beat the longevity odds with proactive endeavors and the love that surrounds me. As the Beatles song says, “I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”
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October 2010
Volume 15, Issue 12