Speaking Out Against Bullying Working in acute inpatient rehab, Brandy Dickinson helped Bryan Stow, victim of a high-profile sports-related attack, find a new career as a public speaker. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   October 01, 2018
Speaking Out Against Bullying
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Healthcare Settings / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   October 01, 2018
Speaking Out Against Bullying
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23102018.24
The ASHA Leader, October 2018, Vol. 23, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23102018.24
Name: Brandy Dickinson, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist, Good Samaritan Hospital
Hometown: Boulder Creek, California
Speech-language pathologist Brandy Dickinson started working with Bryan Stow in 2013, helping the then-44-year-old rehabilitate after his highly publicized 2011 attack after a baseball game in Los Angeles—simply for wearing the opposing team’s jersey.
Two Dodgers fans pushed Stow—in his San Francisco Giants jersey—from behind. Unable to break his fall, Stow hit his head on the concrete, and the attackers kicked him repeatedly in the head. The father and former paramedic spent the next nine months in a coma with a severe skull fracture and traumatic brain injury (TBI), among other injuries. When Dickinson met Stow two years and five hospitals later, he was frustrated with being in yet another institution.
On staff at Good Samaritan Hospital’s acute rehabilitation center just outside of San Francisco, Dickinson often treats patients with TBI. She knew how to handle patients like Stow—worn out by long stints of rehab.
“He didn’t want to be in another hospital,” Dickinson says. “He had just gone home [a few months before] and didn’t understand why he was back, so I used approaches I learned studying palliative care, which look at what makes people happy and thrive. Bryan needed to know what was going on in his body and brain in order to set goals.”
Once Dickinson helped Stow understand why he was there and what she—along with his occupational and physical therapists—could help him accomplish, Stow showed interest in setting goals. His main goal was to work as a paramedic again, and the SLP knew Stow could still access details about his former profession.
She thought helping him share those details in a low-key presentation would motivate her patient to work harder. Dickinson knew of just the right audience.
Starting small
Next door to the rehab center is a church with a preschool. Dickinson often helps her patients prepare short presentations—usually about their survivor stories—for students as a fun way to address a variety of cognitive and language skills, such as language processing, memorization, answering questions using key words, and staying on topic.
“I like putting together TBI patients with these kids,” Dickinson says. “They are so sincere and nonjudgmental.”
The benefits for Stow—and other patients—include building confidence, speaking in a safe place, and the buzz of having 5- and 6-year-olds hanging on every word. Although Stow showed little enthusiasm for the first visit, he agreed. He talked to his young audience about how to dial 911, reasons they might need to call, and what paramedics do.
The initial visit was a success. Not only did Stow enjoy talking to the students, he also exceeded expectations. He handled the question and answer portion with just a little prompting from Dickinson. He also eclipsed his previous mobility achievements with a wheelchair course the students set up for him.
“When you see what people can do with a little encouragement from others, it’s incredible,” Dickinson says. “He loved being with those kids, so we planned other outings, while incorporating more goals.”
Dickinson knew the kids would ask Stow about how he got hurt, so they worked on an age-appropriate answer. Saying he was hurt by adult bullies was simple and allowed Stow to include a kindness message.

“When you see what people can do with a little encouragement from others, it’s incredible,”

Growing bigger
Stow rapidly progressed in all of his rehab goals once he began talking to the kids, so Dickinson started thinking bigger in terms of audience size, presentation length, and showing off mobility achievements—such as moving from a wheelchair to crutches—in each presentation.
“The memorization exercises were based on cognitive and language goals, but also helped with physical skills,” Dickinson says. “The repetition of doing these presentations really helped him achieve his mobility goals, especially doing them in distracting environments.”
Dickinson volunteered her time to work with Stow once he went home—he lives with his parents since the attack—for a couple of hours each week. She put together an anti-bullying presentation using slides with images, key words and sentence starters, then arranged for him to talk to three area elementary schools.
Dickinson asked Stow to make a list of changes that made him the most self-conscious. He lists red, peeling skin, weight gain from medications, mobility issues, and the scar on his head. He asks students if they’d tease him because of those things and to think about that next time they encounter someone with a disability.
Each presentation concludes with a four-point anti-bullying pledge Stow asks audiences to repeat: “I will treat others with kindness, compassion and respect. I will not be a bystander to bullying. I will stand up and speak up when I witness bullying. Bullying hurts lives and I am a life saver.”
“Getting back out in the community gave Bryan so much happiness,” Dickinson says, “He still wanted to work again and realized he couldn’t be a paramedic, but I encouraged him to be a public speaker—he’s really good at it. And he’s funny!”
In the years since those inaugural presentations, Stow and Dickinson have done 150 more together for preschoolers through adults. Their venues include schools, juvenile detention centers, centers for adults with disabilities, rehab hospitals, and businesses interested in curbing workplace bullying. The SLP creates the slideshow, which she’s adjusted over the years to reflect Stow’s progress, then rehearses with Stow and attends events to prompt and keep him on topic as needed.
Eventually, Stow—with the help of his parents and two sisters—got comfortable enough to do some presentations without Dickinson. She estimates he’s done an additional 100 events without her help. ASHA presented Stow with the Distinguished Service Award at the 2017 Convention, in recognition of his presentations, which spread anti-bullying messages and public awareness of the work of SLPs.
Seeing Stow’s public-speaking success, Dickinson suggested starting a nonprofit. The Stows had already considered this and ran with the idea. In 2015, they set up the Bryan Stow Foundation, which raises money so Stow can continue giving free presentations.
Dickinson now works on a contract basis for the foundation to change presentations or support Stow at large events. For example, Stow recently served as the keynote speaker for an audience of 800 adults.
Stowe’s achievements have inspired Dickinson as well. The SLP takes patients to talk with communication sciences and disorders students at nearby San Jose State University. She also recently started a healing choir for stroke survivors and their loved ones that she co-leads with her hospital’s neuropsychologist.
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October 2018
Volume 23, Issue 10