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First Words

by Andrea Moxley

The tragedy in Tucson and the miraculous recovery of Gabby Giffords has me thinking about first words. Is there anything sweeter than hearing someone’s first words? The world is waiting to hear what Gabby’s next words are. For her, the words that come next will be with the help and expertise of a speech-language pathologist. Every day I turn on the television with the hope that we will hear about Gabby’s words that come next. Not her first words, but even sweeter.

Indulge me for a minute and consider the news we have heard about this tragedy. I’m reminded of my training about concussion injuries versus a gun shot, anatomy and physiology of the brain and the amazing strength of the human will to survive such a tragedy. What sticks with me is the simply stated importance of communication. This tragedy has pulled us into the extended friends and family of well-wishers for Gabby. Vicariously, we are living the caregivers’ experience. We are hoping and praying for her recovery, for those next words. Waiting. We don’t want to hear about how likely her recovery is. Her family, and the world, wants to know what we can do to help. How her caregivers can provide an environment that will help her to communicate and recover to the full extent possible. The importance of what we do can only be measured by what the family, caregivers and patient actually hear and understand. As professionals, we can tell them all about the neuroanatomy of why a recovery may or may not be likely. But, I would argue that our time with them is better spent telling them about what they can do to help make that recovery happen.

I have faith in the expertise of the team of professionals working with Gabby. I know that they have what it takes to make her recovery the best that it can be. In the meantime, as Gabby’s extended caregiver, I know I stand united with SLPs as we collectively wait to hear those first, still as sweet, next words.

Andrea “Deedee” Moxley is Associate Director for Multicultural Resources at ASHA. She worked at Montgomery County Public Schools prior to coming to the National Office. Deedee is responsible for responding to technical assistance questions, developing resources for working with diverse populations and co-managing the S.T.E.P. Mentoring Program. Her areas of interest include cultural competence, bilingualism and health literacy.

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Laura January 20, 2011 - 4:43 pm

The ideas you have expressed here are so appreciated.

When my mother experienced temporary expressive aphasia due to a seizure, I could see her frustration in her facial expressions and body language as she tried to express herself, but couldn’t. Helping her through her recovery involved educating the family about her condition, and how changes in their communication approaches could help her. Since she was a cancer patient and not expected to recover she was not assigned an SLP by the Wheaton Franciscans, but we figured it out. She regained her ability to express herself and enjoyed her time with us for many months before we lost her in November.

I finish my undergraduate degree in May, and your expressed ideas of family involvement in recovery is something that I am passionate about and hope to orchestrate in the future as an SLP. Thank you again for such a wonderful entry, it is a real affirmation of this journey upon which I have embarked.


Tweets that mention First Words | ASHAsphere -- Topsy.com January 20, 2011 - 5:19 pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by maggielmcg, ASHA, dscott/jgloster, Valerie Blouch, Summit Care and others. Summit Care said: RT @ASHAWeb: New on ASHAsphere…ASHA's DeeDee Moxley reflects on SLPs' role in Gabby #Giffords recovery. http://bit.ly/h4DJEf […]

Sean Sweeney January 20, 2011 - 6:53 pm

Very true. I heard this morning that she stood up for the first time, but of course I was thinking about her speech. She sounds like a real fighter. I like that term, “extended caregiver!”

Lisa February 8, 2011 - 1:57 pm

Great story!

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