As part of our Aphasia Awareness Month celebration, we bring you a guest blog post from Karen Copeland about the unique aphasia day camp she runs in Oklahoma. Tactus Therapy is a proud donor of apps to the camp.

Friday, June 3, 2016 marked the end of the 5th annual Cowboy Aphasia Camp – 5 straight days of talking, learning, and laughing for 9 campers with aphasia and 10 graduate student clinicians in the Department of Communication Science & Disorders at Oklahoma State University. Throughout the week, camper/clinician teams were hard at work reducing the effects of aphasia on daily communication, and forging personal relationships with each other.

Aphasia Camp Friendships

Aphasia Camp Activities

Despite the name, there are no horses or sleeping under the stars at Cowboy Aphasia Camp. The camp is a weeklong therapeutic experience on OSU’s Tulsa campus, partnering people with aphasia and graduate students in the communication disorders program. [The school’s athletic teams are known as the Oklahoma State Cowboys.]

Some of the time is devoted to individual therapy based on campers’ needs and interests. A computer lab is available for assisted practice with commercially available software and web-based applications designed to help people with aphasia regain communication skills. But those activities are just one small piece of camp.

From 9 am to 3 pm each day, communication opportunities are non-stop. Campers and clinicians gather in small groups to drink coffee and swap personal stories. They complete secret shopper errands in the campus bookstore, and they find quiet locations to practice using app technology to improve listening and verbal skills. Students and campers particularly enjoyed Tactus Therapy’s easy-to-use Apraxia Therapy and Number Therapy apps this year!

Communication Everywhere

“Talking Lunches” take conversation to a meal setting, and games like “Two Truths and a Lie” result in rowdy storytelling and some surprises: one of the campers has fostered over 700 babies; another shared the story of being arrested when his stroke happened, after first responders assumed he was intoxicated. Grrrrr!

Aphasia Camp Games - Never Have I Ever

During aphasia camp, clinicians designed daily polls, offering a chance for campers to voice their opinions about everything from favorite pizza toppings to politics. Graduate students tried their hand at leading group activities like Aphasia Camp Jeopardy to stimulate question-asking skills. On another day, the activity was Brain Games, where camper/clinician teams raced to solve riddles and word puzzles, and figure out the identity of objects when they could only see what that item looks like under a microscope. The wild guesses resulted in more laughter.

This year, a new language-based learning opportunity was introduced. The resource librarian in the campus library created an interactive lesson for campers. Campers and clinicians learned how to make a computer screen more aphasia-friendly, how to make a mouse work when you have to use your left hand, and how to use the internet to learn more about aphasia. (Thanks, Tom!)

More than Language at Aphasia Camp

Camp also included activities that stimulate minds and language in a less direct way. A wonderful SLP graduate student (she’s from another university program, but who cares?!), who is also a yoga instructor, treated campers and camp staff to chair yoga sessions.

Aphasia Camp Painting

A local artist presented a coached painting exercise. After learning that many campers use their non-dominant hand to paint, she demonstrated using her left hand! Another favorite activity was the visit from the Karing K-9s pet therapy group. As one camper put it, “Dogs don’t care if you can’t say words perfectly.”

Aphasia Camp K9 Dogs

Outcomes of Aphasia Camp

A study examining perceived quality of life related to communication skills was conducted during the first 2 years that Cowboy Aphasia Camp was held. ASHA’s Quality of Communication Life Scale (QCLS) was administered before and after camp to a total of 10 campers. The QCLS is presented in an aphasia-friendly format and respondents indicate their level of agreement with statements such as “I use the telephone;” and “I stay in touch with friends and family.” For all participants completing the camp experience, a statistically significant increase in the mean overall score on the QCLS was observed (Copeland, 2015).

Yet, score increases on a standardized tool tell only part of the story. While this year’s campers ranged in age from 19 to 82, and aphasia duration ranged from 4 months to 10 years, the common experience of aphasia erased those differences. Camp resulted in more talking, increased confidence, and improved ability of campers to tell their “aphasia story.” There were tears, there were smiles… and there was ice cream!

Jim is a camper who travels a significant distance each year to participate. His wife shared that he returned home from camp with lots of stories and is already looking forward to next year. Another camper stated, “At aphasia camp, we are all the same, in different ways.” And, with the help of supported conversation strategies, Bill, a first-time camper summed up his experience as shown in the picture below.

I hope you have a aphasia camp again. I like it.

The Student Experience

To examine the experiences of the graduate student clinicians who have participated in Cowboy Aphasia Camp, an online survey was conducted in 2015. One hundred percent of those responding indicated they would recommend the experience to other graduate students. The clinicians also rated themselves as more knowledgeable about aphasia, and more comfortable when helping people with aphasia, following the camp experience. One clinician shared the following: “My interactions with the campers made me more passionate about what I do. I also became a better and calmer clinician by the end of the camp.”

Aphasia Camp Friendships

Aphasia Awareness

Benefits from aphasia camp are not limited to the campers and the clinicians. Family members, people all across campus, the SLP community, and businesses have all come together to support the project. Faculty and university staff participated in communication exchanges during a scavenger hunt. Area restaurants donated food. Employees of a national hotel chain said they learned about aphasia from talking with the campers who stayed there during the week of camp. Seasoned SLPs in the extended community referred clients, shared materials, and provided financial support. And thanks to the instructions shared by a camper, this writer’s tomatoes are finally growing!

The Cowboy Aphasia Camp raises money through an annual event called Heels for Words. Those who choose to walk 1.5 miles in heels during the fundraiser start to understand how much harder life can be for people with aphasia.

Celebrating Success

At Cowboy Aphasia Camp, Friday, June 3, 2016 was a celebration of success! For campers, the week was a chance to engage in extended communication practice. For the graduate clinicians, camp was a chance to test their clinical wings and fall in love with their profession. For the community, Cowboy Aphasia Camp was an opportunity to learn more about aphasia, and the ways everyone can help make life easier for people with aphasia. Win. Win. Win.

Cowboy Aphasia Camp 2016

Copeland, K. (2015, November). Building an aphasia camp: The tools and the evidence. Poster session presented at the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Denver, CO. 

Karen Copeland, SLP

Guest Blogger Bio

Karen Copeland, M.A., CCC-SLP (pictured on right) works as a Speech-Language Pathologist and Education Coordinator for the Rehab Services department at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, OK. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, where she has been the organizer of Cowboy Aphasia Camp since 2012. Her research interests include quality of life outcomes for people with aphasia, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. You can email her or follow her posts on the Brain Buzz for SLPs page on Facebook.