Visual art has always had a home in aphasia treatment beginning with drawing as a means to communicate. How many times have you had to sketch out a quick house when the word “home” won’t come to your lips? Or relied on pictures to point to an image of what you need? Temporary drawings done on a whiteboard or a scrap of paper are art.

But people are also turning to art for physical rehabilitation after a stroke or as a means of expression in conjunction with speech therapy.

No Words Necessary

Pictures can bring relief if you’re experiencing aphasia and struggling to understand the world through words. As Guillermo F. Florez, the filmmaker who created the aphasia film Speechless, states:

Art is a visual means of communication that is accessible for people with aphasia from any walk of life, whether it is rural Chinese citizens in the PhotoVoice project or a university professor like Dr. Steven Nissen, who used painting to express his depression, joy, and earnest to achieve goals after a stroke.

It makes sense that a medium that transcends language––you don’t need to speak Italian to enjoy Michelangelo’s David––would be used to communicate without language. If a picture is worth 1000 words, being able to express yourself with a picture is priceless when you’re experiencing a communication disorder.

Try It Out

There is research that supports the use of art in conjunction with speech therapy. And there are affiliates in our database using art as a form of therapy, such as the Swain Center. Sometimes art is used in place of words. Other times, art is used to stimulate speech, as people describe what they’re creating.

A quick Google search of the terms “art,” “aphasia,” and your area will reveal whether a similar program exists near your home.

If not, you don’t need to wait for a formal program to start incorporating art in your therapy. There are plenty of art apps for mobile devices––from colouring apps to drawing apps––and art supplies and colouring books at craft stores.

Set aside any thoughts about talent and instead focus on how creating art or having your art communicate to another person makes you feel. What are you able to express with images that you can’t express with words? Do some forms of visual art speak to you more than others? If you’re not connecting with one medium, such as drawing, try a different medium such as painting, sculpture, or photography. And if creating art isn’t your thing, you can still make a plan to go to an art museum and look at another person’s artwork. It can be empowering to understand what the artist is trying to convey without using a single word.

Have you ever used art to express yourself?

June is Aphasia Awareness Month. We’re taking this month to look at off-the-beaten-path ways that people are treating aphasia using the fine arts. Whether you’re on the stage, behind the easel, or viewing a sculpture or performance, there are plenty of ways that people are leaning on creativity to help restore speech. This is the first of four posts in this series.