For seven years—soon to be eight—during the heat of the Oklahoma summer, graduate students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Oklahoma State University have teamed up with people who have aphasia for a week of activities designed to get everyone talking.
Plans for last year’s camp started in the usual way, and then, through a twist of good fortune, two speech-language pathologists from Perth, Australia, crossed 13 time zones to join the event. OSU’s Cowboy Aphasia Camp will never be the same. (Named for the school’s mascot–the OSU Cowboys.)
Historically, funds for our camp are raised primarily through an awareness walk, Heels for Words, which takes place each spring. (This year’s fundraiser is scheduled for April 27 and camp takes place in early June.) Last year, during the process of soliciting donations and sponsorships, a request went out to the developers of a card game called Tellable, designed to promote improved spoken language based on the principles of constraint-induced aphasia treatment (CIAT).
Australia-based SLPs Angela Cream and Deborah West are the brains behind this material. Amazingly, they responded to the request with an offer to donate a copy of their game and their time and travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the duration of camp. It was an offer we could not refuse!
Cream and West powered through their jet lag and met our team of 11 student clinicians during clinician boot camp, which takes place the Friday before the start of camp. Boot camp is a day-long preparation for all of the activities that happen during camp, and this year it included some “just-in-time” training in the concepts and processes of CIAT.
The Tellable team reviewed research evidence supporting use of this type of approach for improving the spoken language of people with aphasia, demonstrated the activity (you could call it a game, but then insurance companies might think we are just having fun!), and gave grad students a chance to practice. Camp is often the first time the grad students meet people with aphasia, so clinical faculty—including Megan Whitehead, clinical coordinator—helped them overcome butterflies, and our Australian counterparts were amazing encouragers.
Campers arrived Monday morning. Following coffee and introductions, the fun—a.k.a work—began. Our Aussie colleagues demonstrated their card games with campers, while graduate clinicians watched the theory transfer to action. Then the students tried their skills working with campers.
Participants set communication goals for themselves and each other before each round of Tellable begins. For example, “I’m going to use longer sentences,” and “Joe, try to look at me when you ask for a card.” Clinicians act as facilitators and collect information about participants’ responses. Campers work at a level appropriate to their abilities and challenges. Through a process of requesting and responding, every player trades roles as speaker and listeners, mimicking the flow of a conversation.
This description tells only a small part of the story. Laughter erupted when a player mocked an Australian accent while making a request for a card, and another player was challenged to prove her card depicted a “boy horse”!
In addition to leading intense but fun activities intended to help campers battle aphasia, Cream and West presented an armchair tour of their homeland. Campers and clinicians alike learned about quokkas, bungarras, and fairy bread. Camper-clinician teams also scoured the campus for hidden toy brains during a competitive scavenger hunt, engaged in conversation over “Talking Lunches,” and took turns punching the lights out of aphasia when a local boxing coach and his team joined the camp with “Ready To Fight” action that got blood pumping and words flowing. Oh, and we painted, talked with the animals during the Karing K9s’ visit, and ate some Vegemite, too (under direct supervision, of course!).
Everyone reported the week flew by. Participants said they felt more confident as communicators and clinicians, so we’ll document Cowboy Aphasia Camp 2018 as as “goals met” and “to be continued” later this year!
Karen Copeland, MA, CCC-SLP, BC-ANCDS, is organizer of Cowboy Aphasia Camp and an adjunct lecturer at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org