Repairing Communication & Hope
written by kayley howard | photos provided by the aphasia center of west texas
Think for a moment about all the things you do in your day that requires language to express yourself and understand others; saying good morning to your spouse, reading a recipe, looking up the weather report, responding to email, making a grocery list, or calling a friend. It is difficult to imagine your day without some form of communication, but this is a reality for individuals diagnosed with aphasia.
Aphasia is a communication impairment caused by a traumatic brain injury, typically a stroke. It affects a person’s expression and understanding of language, as well as the ability to read and write. The Aphasia Center of West Texas is a non-profit organization that connects people with aphasia to a vast network of resources and weekly support groups. It is a safe place for area residents to learn communication strategies and practical tips that help relieve the daily frustration of living with aphasia.
Kitty Binek, Executive Director of the Aphasia Center of West Texas, described aphasia, explaining, “It’s like going to a foreign country where we don’t read, speak, or write the language. We are certainly the same person when we get off the plane in that country, but we may not look as smart; we might have a difficult time communicating, revealing our competence, and maneuvering in their world.” Aphasia affects more than 2.5 million individuals in the United States and approximately one in every 250 people in the Permian Basin. Approximately one in three stroke survivors are diagnosed with this communication disorder. The Aphasia Center of West Texas, founded in 2002, is a privately-funded center that serves adult patients within the Permian Basin. The center is one of two independent aphasia centers in the state of Texas, the other center is located in Houston.
The Aphasia Center does not treat aphasia medically, but instead, provides a toolbox for members and their families to better navigate the difficult aspects of living with aphasia. “We are not a medical facility,” remarked Binek. “We are not in competition with other rehabs. We are all part of the continuum of care, yet the Aphasia Center addresses broader issues like maintaining friendships, environmental adaptations, personal identity, and returning to social activities.” After an aphasia diagnosis and traditional treatment, an individual needs a next step. Binek noted that the Aphasia Center has great partnerships with local hospitals and rehabilitation centers. “Thank God there’s the Aphasia Center where they can come and get a community, a life line of support, help and have fun,” Binek said. “Many speech pathologists love the Aphasia Center because they have something to offer their patients.”
" The Life Participation Approach" is a holistic approach proven to positively influence a person’s ability to re-engage in life’s interactions and activities in spite of aphasia." -Binek
The Aphasia Center uses a life participation approach to overcoming communication barriers. “What we do here is a social model of service that is overseen by medical professionals,” Binek stated. “They have been trained in what is starting to be recognized as best practices for people with aphasia, the Life Participation Approach to Aphasia.” Binek also explained that “The Life Participation Approach” is a holistic approach proven to positively influence a person’s ability to re-engage in life’s interactions and activities in spite of aphasia. This method looks at all parts of an individual’s life; the whole language environment, specifically their communication; it considers additional impairments or immobility; and it assesses their personal life, hobbies, feelings, and attitudes.
Programming Aphasia Center Conversation Group
The members of the Aphasia Center enjoy a variety of activities; gardening, cooking, book club, music, photography, debate, and computer lab, that allow them to practice adaptive communication techniques, develop meaningful friendships, and regain a level of control of their lives. “We don’t call them patients or clients,” explained Binek, “they are members because they purchase a membership. Much like you go to a gym for a physical workout, our members come here for a communication work out.”
Being in public, going to restaurants, museums, theaters, or shopping can be overwhelming and hard to navigate for someone coping with aphasia. The center hosts a monthly ‘out and about’ group activity that allows the members (with the safety net of a trained volunteer) to take their newly acquired tools and utilize them in the community. “It’s all about communication accessibility and accessibility to our community,” said Binek. “Our hope is that they will be able to gain the confidence they need to later go out and do it on their own.”
Programming Family Education
Not only does this therapy help members build communication confidence, it also has an educational component for the community. Liaisons are able to use these outings to advocate for people with aphasia and educate local businesses on how to best serve people with communication barriers, making our region more communication-accessible. “Awareness is such a big deal for us,” said Binek. “Aphasia is a tough word – if you can’t communicate, it makes it hard to advocate.”
Being in public - going to restaurants, museums, theaters, and shopping - can be overwhelming and hard to navigate for someone coping with aphasia.
The Aphasia Center of West Texas was the second independent aphasia center in the United States. It began with a small group of adults who, as a result of stroke, acquired aphasia. After being discharged from traditional speech therapy, they found themselves facing social isolation, boredom, and a dramatically changed life. Binek said individuals and community leaders saw a need for people to have a say, to have a voice, in their own lives despite their aphasia. They began to question if there was more to offer or if there was a service that could alter this diagnosis. In 2001, the Scarborough-Linebery Foundation, Midland Memorial Hospital Foundation, Manor Park and others joined forces in an effort to respond to the need for care for people coping with aphasia in West Texas.
Out & About with the Odessa Jackalopes hockey team
Nancy Anguish became founding board president in 2001; a board of directors was recruited in March of 2002; first members joined in October of the same year, and the organization achieved 501c(3) status by February of 2003. Soon after, the Abell-Hanger Foundation, Permian Basin Area Foundation and others invested in the idea of this non-profit organization. In 2013, after realizing the need for a resource for aphasia service providers, the Aphasia Center of West Texas helped birth a national organization called Aphasia Access. In 2015, it was launched at Boston University. Today, the center has approximately 30 active members but directly serves a total of 210 people, including family members. They have a staff that consists of two speech pathologists, two certified nursing assistants, a community and volunteer liaison, an executive assistant, and an executive director. Binek admits that their volunteers play a vast, committed role and are the bedrock of the Aphasia Center.
Aphasia Awareness Concert Volunteers-
" We feel really good about the respite aspect of how we are helping the family. I think that’s one of the biggest services we provide." - Kitty Binek
Along with the communication workout they offer to the individuals with aphasia, the center also provides respite for the family or caretakers directly involved. “We feel really good about the respite aspect of how we are helping the family,” Binek said, “I think that’s one of the biggest services we provide.” The Aphasia Center is meant to reengage individuals with aphasia into life as a whole. “Our hope is that they start to reengage in areas of life as they are given the tools and the communication techniques needed to access their world again,” Binek noted, “The aphasia is still there, it didn’t go away, but hopefully it’s a much smaller part of who they are. They are so much more than their aphasia. You don’t want them to be defined by it. Regardless of how much of their speech they get back, if we can give them their life back, then we have really done something.” †
For more information on the Aphasia Center of West Texas visit:
or call 432-699-1261