The Therapeutic Value of Adversity I am a speech-language pathologist who is quadriplegic as a result of life-saving surgery in 1997 to remove an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) from my brain. I use wheelchairs for mobility. I am unable to speak. My left arm, side, and leg are overcome with paresis. I have profound hearing ... From My Perspective
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From My Perspective  |   September 01, 2011
The Therapeutic Value of Adversity
Author Notes
  • Jenell Y. Gordon, MA, CCC-SLP, is an inactive speech-language pathologist living in a long-term care facility in Norfolk, Va. She enjoys shopping, watching movies, going on outings, listening to music, and watching televised sports. Contact her at jenellgordon@yahoo.com.
    Jenell Y. Gordon, MA, CCC-SLP, is an inactive speech-language pathologist living in a long-term care facility in Norfolk, Va. She enjoys shopping, watching movies, going on outings, listening to music, and watching televised sports. Contact her at jenellgordon@yahoo.com.×
Article Information
Augmentative & Alternative Communication / From My Perspective
From My Perspective   |   September 01, 2011
The Therapeutic Value of Adversity
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 53. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.16092011.53
The ASHA Leader, September 2011, Vol. 16, 53. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.16092011.53

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I am a speech-language pathologist who is quadriplegic as a result of life-saving surgery in 1997 to remove an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) from my brain. I use wheelchairs for mobility. I am unable to speak. My left arm, side, and leg are overcome with paresis. I have profound hearing loss in my right ear, breathe through a tracheotomy, and receive nutrition through a gastrostomy tube.
An acquaintance suggested to me that my quality of life was poor, but I don’t concentrate on the opinions of others. I put my trust in God and focus on the quality of my thoughts—and that is high. My outer self has not changed over the years and that’s okay. But my inner self has progressed tremendously. I have a positive attitude and I believe in myself! Things are going well for me.
In spite of my long struggle to recover, I am sustained every day. My parents are wonderful sources of encouragement and are always by my side. I have been blessed with other family and friends, including many people at the facility where I live. I know I will be guided to a brighter future.
Communication is a crucial skill for all human beings, and even more important when one cannot speak. I am fortunate to be able to operate an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device with my right index finger and to use a computer mouse. By connecting my AAC device to my computer, I can write and do e-mail. I use American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet with those who know that language.
My AAC device can convert what I type to audible speech, but most of the time I communicate with a very low-tech communication board. It has numbers, letters, pictures, names, job titles, and sentences I can point to in order to “talk” to those around me.
Effective human communication has never been easy to achieve, and my modes of communication, which are laborious and time-consuming, can create confusion and misunderstanding. For example, I point to letters, spaces, and symbols on my communication board, and I need the other person to speak the names of what I’m pointing to. When they don’t, I keep pointing until they comply. My right hand sometimes is shaky, however, and others can mistake what I’m pointing to.
Being in this condition gives me a lot of chances to reflect on all the barriers and impediments to communication between people. And with all my communication difficulties, I realize that those with whom I try to communicate have their problems, too. These problems may be more subtle in those who can speak and hear, but nearly everyone has some difficulties with effective communication.
My transitional care facility is located near many military installations and, as a result, has a highly transient population. It takes time for new nurses and aides to become acquainted with me and my physical needs. Sometimes just when they are in tune with me, they leave the area and new caregivers arrive.
Health care providers also may have difficulty relating to the needs of a quadriplegic patient. They may not see things that need to be tended on a regular basis. They may feel awkward or insecure, and may be easily offended by suggestions or requests. They may be unaccustomed to dealing with patients who simply can’t speak up about what they need or want. They may enter the room, render a service, and never even look at or speak to the patient. They may not realize the importance of eye contact, which is part of what makes face-to-face communication so much more productive than phone or written correspondence.
In communicating, it’s important to take the time to make sure a message is understood. There is such a shortage of medical personnel, however, that each bears a heavy workload. These workload pressures may distract the provider from the laborious task of interpreting a message spelled out on a communication board or an AAC device.
Part of the problem is that the educational system does not equip general education students with good communication skills, which include not just language and decoding skills, but also understanding the differences among people of different social, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Sometimes people are quite limited in their abilities, and their communication styles may even be destructive.
In his 1993 memoir, Days of Grace, the late Arthur Ashe spoke of the “therapeutic value of adversity,” which we all experience in one way or another. As SLPs, we have many opportunities to improve human life and society through instruction and example. My opportunity has come from my medical difficulties, but I have tried to lead the way to better communication from my perspective as an SLP.
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September 2011
Volume 16, Issue 9