Acquired aphasia, a language processing disorder that is a result of a stroke or brain injury, affects more than one million Americans. It manifests itself differently in different people, but generally the individual’s intelligence is intact. However, someone affected with aphasia may not be able to read a notice, ask for a cup of coffee, or follow a news story on the television. The effects of the disorder are long term.
Few people in this country have done more for this disconnected group of disabled citizens than Dr. Martha Sarno. Dr. Sarno is an internationally recognized authority on communication disorders. She has professional responsibilities; however, she tirelessly gives of herself to those affected with aphasia outside of her employment duties. Dr. Sarno is quite aware of the causes and effects and states, “one does not recover from aphasia, one recovers with aphasia.” So it is all the more important for those affected to be educated as much as they can and have the necessary tools available for their daily lives.
In addition to writing about stroke and aphasia for the layman, Dr. Sarno founded the National Aphasia Association (NAA) in 1987. This Association is the only national organization dedicated to reconnecting individuals who have aphasia with their families, communities, and their ability to communicate. The mission of the NAA is to reduce the social and emotional consequences of the disorder by raising greater awareness of aphasia among the general public, providing information to people with their families, and giving a voice to the thousands of people who are not able to use theirs.
It is difficult to overemphasize the emotional devastation and isolation created by aphasia. Part of this is due to the lack of knowledge of aphasia by both professionals and the public. Thousands of stroke survivors are discharged from the hospital every year without being told that their speech problem has a name or that treatment is available. Furthermore, when patients are referred for speech therapy, insurance reimbursement is minimal.
Annually, through a toll-free number, the NAA answers questions from thousands of people affected with aphasia as well as their family members. The NAA provides non-technical information about aphasia, guidelines for communicating with people who have aphasia, information about support groups, and other literature. Also, through “Speaking Out,” the NAA’s biennial conference for people with aphasia, their families, and rehabilitation professionals, the Pen Pals page on the NAA’s Web site, and community groups, people with the disorder learn that they are not alone. The NAA also supports National Aphasia Awareness Week, by providing aphasia community groups across the country with literature and suggestions for raising awareness of aphasia in their communities.
Dr. Sarno has assisted many who otherwise may not have information to live their lives in a productive way. Her career began when she was hired by Dr. Howard Rusk to be the Director of the Speech-Language Pathology Department at the Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. She has held the position since, and her department has served as a model for programs all over the world. In 1982, she was awarded a Doctor of Medicine honoris causa from the University of Goteberg. Her primary work is as Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.