A Canton couple is working on a book series for adults with aphasia that gives them the opportunity to read simple material, rather than reading children’s books.
Aphasia Readers, created by Anna and Ryan Teal, is a book series designed to help those with aphasia and apraxia. Aphasia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to read, write, and comprehend verbal communication, while apraxia causes difficulty with motor planning to perform tasks and movements. Ryan Teal was diagnosed with aphasia and apraxia four years ago after a stroke, his wife said.
“My husband had a stroke at the age of 34, which took us by surprise as you can imagine,” Anna Teal said. “I noticed one night he started having symptoms of a stroke — right-sided weakness and he couldn’t speak. I called 911 and he was rushed to (Wellstar) Kennestone Hospital. We found out both of his front carotid arteries had collapsed. He had a blood clot that went to his brain.”
The blood clot was successfully removed, but doctors later found something unusual with Ryan Teal, his wife said.
“He has ‘eagle syndrome,’ where your styloids, the bones between your ear and jaw, are bigger than the usual half an inch to an inch long,” Anna Teal said. “Ryan’s are about three to four inches, so their (doctors’) thought was, over time, the bones had worn away at the carotid arteries. He was also recovering from the flu at the time as well, so all of this is what the doctors think caused the stroke. It’s a really rare thing.”
The stroke led to the aphasia, which has affected the way Ryan Teal is able to communicate with his wife and those around him, the couple said. Though there are challenges that come with aphasia, Anna Teal said her husband has not lost who he was as a person prior to the health scare, nor has he lost his intelligence as a result of the disorder.
“A common misperception of aphasia is that people are not as smart or the same person as they were before the diagnosis — and that’s simply not true,” Anna Teal said. “One of our missions with Aphasia Readers is to spread awareness that they are still themselves, it’s just those pathways that were once there that used to produce speech are no longer there. (Ryan) has to work hard to work around those damaged areas of the brain to get words out. It can be done; it just takes practice and repetitiveness and diligence about recovery.”
Anna Teal added that she is “so proud of him in the work he has done the last four years to try and get his speech back.”
“He can say words and sentences, but it’s still limited,” she said. “We just keep at it and keep practicing.”
In a written statement, Ryan Teal said, “it’s important for people to realize that aphasia is a loss of language, not intellect — I’m still me.”
Anna and Ryan Teal developed Aphasia Readers through their experience with Ryan’s recovery.
“We were looking for supplementary tools to practice outside of speech times because Ryan wanted to practice more and more,” Anna Teal said. “So, our doctor at Kennestone recommended some children’s books for us that had simple sentences and visual icons above the words to help with word retrieval. We practiced with these books for a long time, but Ryan felt it was kind of demeaning because they’re children focused. He wants to feel good about practicing, so we realized there’s a need for adult simple readers with visual support.”
The couple told the University of Michigan Aphasia Program about this idea and “they loved it,” Anna Teal said. Through this, we were able to develop Aphasia Readers, with the plan of having varying levels of difficulty to challenge the reader.
“We have plans for three books with varying levels of difficulty, with our first book, level 1, available now,” she said. “Our Level 2 book will launch in June for Aphasia Awareness Month. We’ve been really thoughtful and tried to develop these tools to better our friends in the aphasia and stroke community. A portion of proceeds from every book purchase is donated to create awareness in the community and help others afford speech therapy, which is quite expensive.”
Repetitive speech practice has helped Ryan Teal become more confident communicating with friends, he said, and Aphasia Readers have helped him hold a conversation with strangers.
“Recovering from aphasia requires determination and perseverance — it’s important to stay motivated,” he said.
For more information on the book series and additional free resources offered, visit aphasiareaders.com.