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Aphasia Access Conversations

How We’re Reducing Communication Barriers

Aphasia Access Conversations brings you the latest aphasia resources, tips, and aha moments from Life Participation professionals who deliver way more than stroke and aphasia facts. Topics include aphasia group treatment ideas, communication access strategies, plus ways for growing awareness and funds for your group aphasia therapy program. This podcast is produced by Aphasia Access.

Jan 11, 2022

During this episode, Jerry Hoepner, a faculty member in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, speaks with Dr. Tyson Harmon, 2021 recipient of the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia Distinguished Scholar award, about his work that addresses factors outside of language that influence communication success.


In today’s episode you will:

  • Learn about the importance of contextual factors and how the environment can place cognitive demands on people with aphasia. 
  • Learn about some potential cognitive factors that can prevent people with aphasia from participating fully in everyday communication. 
  • Learn about how communication partner responsiveness and emotional arousal can affect everyday communication participation. 
  • Learn specific strategies to help people with aphasia cope with these environmental, task, partner, and emotional demands. 
  • Learn about strategies for helping people with aphasia to change their mindsets in a way that helps them deal with these everyday challenges. 

Interview Transcript: 


Jerry Hoepner: Welcome to the Aphasia Access Conversations Podcast I’m Jerry Hoepner, a faculty member in the department of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. Today I’m joined by Dr. Tyson Harmon 2021 recipient of the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia Distinguished Scholar award. Tyson Harmon is an assistant professor in the department of communication disorders at Brigham Young University and is interested in the assessment treatment and psychosocial aspects related to aphasia and acquired apraxia of speech. His current research is focused on understanding how attention emotion and language interact to affect functioning and recovery and aphasia. I’m privileged today to discuss Tyson's work with him. Broadly, his work addresses factors outside of language that influence communication success contextual factors such as cognition emotion, environment, and social or partner factors. Those topics obviously fit within the model of LPAA, so I’m really excited to have this conversation with you today. Tyson I’m a big fan of your work and its relevance to what we do every single day so.


Tyson Harmon: Thanks so much for having me, Jerry. I really appreciate it, and just thrilled to be able to speak with you. You've always been just a great support to me and my work and I just have really appreciated your mentorship so thank you.


Jerry Hoepner: Thank you, and I can remember the first time we met, I think, maybe the first or second Aphasia Access Leadership Summit.


Tyson Harmon: That's right, it's been a few years.


Jerry Hoepner: Yeah, we were both 10 years old, at that time.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, it's gone by fast.


Jerry Hoepner: It sure does it's amazing how quickly that goes by. Yeah well, maybe I’ll start out with kind of a big question and ask you a little bit about your experience and your mentors in the LPAA model I know you've had some really good ones, but not all of our listeners are aware of who they are.


Tyson Harmon: Sure, yeah, I would be so happy to talk about that. So yeah, I mean I have been blessed to have many mentors and a lot of people who just take an interest in me and my work from early on, and I mean, as I mentioned Jerry, you've been one of those people. But I want to mention a few people specifically and I first need to mention my doctoral advisors Katarina Haley and Adam Jacks, I mean they have just had such a profound influence on who I am as a researcher. The topics that I’m interested in, the way I go about what I do in research, and for those of you who know Katarina and Adam you understand that they're kind of a package deal, they collaborate a lot and I was it was very blessed to be co-advised by them during my doctoral training. One thing about Katarina that I think is important to mention is, as we'll talk about today, I do both qualitative and quantitative work and Katarina was very influential in kind of mentoring me towards learning qualitative methodologies that really allowed me to pursue some of the psychosocial interests that I have and we'll talk a little bit more about so that has just been really, really important. I think, at that time, when I was an early PhD student at trying to figure out what my interests were and what methods I needed to get a handle on, I didn't really have the foresight myself to understand how important qualitative methods might be but Katarina did. And she really guided me in that direction which I’m really grateful for. And you know I guess just the other thing I’ll say about Katarina and Adam is they just always were such excellent models for me of trying to really keep the people that we're trying to serve through our research in mind and to recognize them as people not subjects or participants and to try to you know just do things that will really help them and I have just been really grateful for that and remember that as I’ve tried to kind of start my own independent research trajectory so really, really grateful for them, and their mentorship and guidance. The other person I need to mention is Nina Simmons-Mackie. So I had been a fan of Nina Simmons-Mackie’s work from early on, when I was a young master's student. And I was blessed, I think it was in 2014, to be able to have her as my ANCDS fellows mentor and so that was kind of the first time I was really able to interact with her one-on-one. And that was really, really meaningful to me. I even remember specifically some of the conversations we had, but the thing that has been most impactful is that you know, having just really admired her work for such a long time and then meeting her in person ever since that that time in 2014 every time I see her, she just takes such an incredible interest in me and in what I’m doing and I mean she'll read papers, when I send them her way she just gone above and beyond, to really mentor me and help me and, to be honest, I probably wouldn't have even been in the running’s for this this award that you mentioned Jerry, if it weren't for her because she reached out to me and said, “Hey Tyson, I think you might be a good candidate for this, you should think about it,” and I, personally, I mean I sometimes, you know, feel a little bit inadequate, I guess, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy sometimes I might be the only one, but you know to me, I was like, ‘no I really like I am a good candidate for this?, this seems like a pretty big deal.’ But with her encouragement, you know I put my name in the hat, I guess, I so I’m grateful for her just believing in me too. So yeah, I mean there's so many people I could talk about. I think I do need to mention one more person and that's Jacqueline Laures-Gore. So, you know her work and stress on aphasia has really impacted me and I was able to connect with her right as I was finishing my doctoral studies and she was able to kind of serve as a mentor for me, as I was thinking about where to take some next steps, and you know similar to other people I’ve mentioned she's just really taken an interest in me and my work and just been so generous about reaching out, so I think you know all of these people, obviously impacted me as because of the research interests their focus on the life participation approach to aphasia which is also kind of who they are, and they’re great compassion, they have not only for people with aphasia but for me and so I’ve really just been grateful for that there's more people I could talk about, but I think those are hits on some of the big ones.


Jerry Hoepner: Yeah, that's a pretty good list, and I, I just want to highlight a couple of things that you said, because I think they're so important, when you discuss this idea of Katarina encouraging you to learn those qualitative methods. I think it speaks, and you talked about this a little bit, it speaks to the idea that you have the right kind of methods to answer the kinds of questions that you want to ask and that's really the way that you've approached it, in the way that we should all approach it, so I think that's just something to really highlight because it's you know not easy or effective to answer every question with the same methodology so.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah absolutely, so important.


Jerry Hoepner: And I really appreciate, and I’m not surprised, but the focus on seeing our research participants, and I even hesitate to say that word as it comes out of my mouth as people and, as someone who needs to benefit from the work that we're doing not just be observed and tested and all of those things, but there should be some tangible benefit or impact on them down the road at least because of our work with them, so I think that's just so, so important to highlight and I hope that others will recognize that importance as well. I know we as a company and in Aphasia Access surrounded by people who value that but I don't know that not everyone does, obviously so yeah.


Tyson Harmon: I mean, and just one other, maybe real brief anecdote I’m in thinking about that aspect, and particularly Katarina has influence on me in that regard, and one of the early qualitative pieces that I published was with Katarina and it was really an effort to try to understand whether treatment approach for apraxia of speech that she was kind of thinking about and developing was acceptable to the people that we were going to be using the treatment on, and so we did a qualitative study that all about kind of social validity to you know get that input from the beginning, as we were planning and designing that that intervention, rather than waiting until it has already been developed to get that feedback and so again just you know it's an example of I guess stakeholder engagement, which I’ve continued to be very interested in and grateful for the efforts that are going on in the field to get stakeholders more involved, from the beginning, from the onset of research. I think that's really important but, again, that was just modeled for me early on, through those mentors.


Jerry Hoepner: Yeah, and that's it! Stakeholder engaged research is just such an important element of that participant as a human being, who has you know, a stake in in the research that we're doing, and it has been should have some things to say about it so absolutely and what a just a great model and a great way to start out. In terms of your work as an academic, so to speak, or on that path and the other thing that I wanted to mention what goes back to your comments about Nina Simmons-Mackie and how generous and open she was an encouraging she was, and I know that definitely applies tonight because I think we've all seen that at you know Aphasia Access conferences and at ASHA and that any other place you might run into her, but I think that's true of so many individuals that are involved in Aphasia Access. I know that when I did the podcast with students that's something that was really almost shocking to them how easy it was to have a conversation with people that they've only seen their names in print before and feel like it's just you know, like you're talking to a friend or another just another regular human being, and I think it's really important for us to keep that.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, for sure I tell my students often after I get back from conferences like you guys are in a great field, because the people in this field, or just nice, you know, like they're just so many nice people they're just genuinely you know, nice and easy to talk to and caring. So yeah, it's definitely something that I’ve noticed in my students have noticed that too.


Jerry Hoepner: Yeah, that emphasis on relationships that we bring to our work and our research our clinical work and our research definitely carries over, you know. We walk the walk, I’m hoping, in terms of this profession, so carries over to those relationships with other professionals as well, which is fantastic.


Tyson Harmon: And I think so.


Jerry Hoepner: Well, since I did bring up the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia Distinguished Scholar award, would you talk a little bit about what it means to you to be awarded this and potentially what its impact will be and has been on your research?


Tyson Harmon: Yeah absolutely I mean, first of all I just want to say how honored I was to receive this word award and frankly a bit shocked as well, I didn't really see it coming or expect it and you know it's meant a lot to me, and I think you know the one of the things that early on just hit me about this award that was the in not just the award but the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia in general is that you know this was founded by a person with aphasia and their family and to me, you know thinking about Robin to have a stock in relationship to this word is really, really meaningful because, again I kind of go back to what I said previously, but this is about people, and it really caused me to reflect like am I honoring the people with aphasia in what I do professionally and in college, as I mentioned cause me quite a bit of reflection, I think it was a confidence booster as well in that you know I it's nice to kind of have your work recognized and think, “Okay, maybe something I’m doing is making a difference” and, to be honest, this kind of came at a time in my kind of academic career I’d hit three years exactly in my professorial position and I was at this kind of point where I was like man is anything that I’m doing making a difference and, and so it was it was just kind of a nice affirmation of like okay like you know this, this does matter, the work that I’m putting in is not only noticed, but it can make a difference for people with aphasia, which is what I really hope and so yeah, I think that confidence and just a greater commitment, as I mentioned on people with aphasia and their families in terms of how it has impacted and will impact my research. I’ve been really grateful for the opportunity. That I’ve had with the encouragement of the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia Board to get involved in the collaboration for aphasia try and to make some connections with a physiologists who are working internationally. So, you know I think there's a lot of potential there and I really believe that. You know, to really make a difference we're going to need to do more and more collaborative work both within this country and internationally, so it has just been awesome just so honored to have received the award and really hope to honor the Tavistock trust and you know the Tavistock family in how I continue my research trajectory.


Jerry Hoepner: That's fantastic, and I just want to emphasize how important that is you mentioned CATS (collaboration of aphasia trialists), for us to kind of band together and address topics internationally that I mean, I think, maybe just even a few years back, it would have been a much bigger obstacle to be able to have those collaborations but now it's just kind of a part of what we expect and to be able to you know when you're looking at kind of niches in the field right some carved out little area of aphasia interventions and so forth. It's good to connect with other people that are in a similar or the same niche and can collaboratively accomplish a lot more in terms of that work together so I just think that's a really important outcome for sure.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, well and I guess just the other comment I’ll make about that is I’m always surprised at how like gracious people are when I reached out to them, they know like we're all so busy, and have so much going on but you know I’ve been able to have a few great conversations with international colleagues and people have just been so gracious and kind of responding and taking time and talking about overlapping interests and that's a really fun part of this, so I just encourage you know, maybe, people who are listening, who are like me and sometimes get a little bit nervous to impose on others like to just you know take that step and get conversation started.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, that's great advice. Well, fabulous to lead into this discussion about your work with kind of the principles that direct how you work, and I think that emphasis on relationships and the human piece that people with aphasia are people that we need to serve and have their best interest in mind, is a great starting point for our conversation about your work, because that's essentially what it's based on and we'll start with asking you a little bit about your work on addressing those contextual factors and maybe that begins with a definition of contextual factors and how that plays into the questions that you ask in your research.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, sure absolutely. So, you know early on, is a kind of began thinking about my research interests and such. And really you know, think about some of this in relation to the WHO-ICF which you know, has been kind of connected with aphasia and in the WHO-ICF is many of you now than we think of you know if we're applying this to aphasia the body structures and functions being kind of the aphasia itself and how the brain is affected by stroke, or otherwise, and activities and participation, but the bottom of that model is depicted graphically you have what the WHO-ICF refers to is contextual factors which are the personal and environmental factors and the model really suggests that these contextual factors can play a role at any of these levels to activities participation body structures and functions and I would say kind of the overarching goal of a lot of the work that that I do, and that we do in the aphasia lab here at BYU is really geared towards understanding the impact of those personal and environmental factors on communicative functioning and participation for people with aphasia and you know, I think that this is important because, if we're really going to promote participation for people with aphasia, then we need to first understand the challenges that are inherent in their everyday communication environments. Maybe what are some of those barriers what's prohibiting them from participating as much as they would like and you know, I think that that really is the first step to finding solutions right, we need to understand those challenges, first, so we can come up with solutions that will help them overcome some of those barriers so that's you know, an emphasis will have a lot of the work that we're doing and you know, we talk about in in my lab what I’ve started to refer to as the cognitive challenges for more kind of the environmental conditions that include complex attentional demand, so all of us when we're communicating in real life right, we are communicating in environments in context that are highly demanding and I was having a conversation with a student in my office just earlier today, and we have the door open and there are people talking in the hall right and that's you know, increases the demands that you have during that conversation, and this happens, or you know when we talk at home or in the car, I mean there's a radio on or TV on.


Jerry Hoepner: Agreed, Tyson and that's just that's just real life right?


Tyson Harmon: And so, I think it's important to think about that and think about then hearing kind of cognitive challenges that exist in our everyday communication environments. So, we kind of talked about that aspect, and we also in in my lab talk about what we refer to as social challenges you're more kind of the. Inner, personal aspects of everyday communication that can sometimes pose more demands, so the way that communication partners react to us the emotional reactions that we have when we're engaging in a conversation and so all of this, I think, is really important, too, but again can kind of heighten the demands in ours everyday community communication context, and so it kind of has to do with those contextual factors, some of these things relate to maybe the personal or environmental factors, but we need to really kind of understand you know what is going on in these everyday environments in order to promote that participation, and I think that's it kind of the long term goal of a lot of what we're doing.


Jerry Hoepner: And I think the emphasis on being aware or becoming aware of what those factors are you mentioned the you know talking to a student with people moving around in the hallway and talking and so forth and we're fortunate that often we can communicate without any you know compromise to our message at that point, but certainly with individuals who have aphasia that can play a role in how effectively they communicate and the best place to begin, as you described in providing those supports is understanding what those demands are having a better understanding of that I know that's a big part of all of the recent work that you've published is just becoming more aware of what those demands are so that you can make some sort of an adjustment, or you can train a communication partner to make some adjustment those kinds of things.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah and, in addition to that, I think you know, one of the things that we've been interested in, because I think it makes sense that you know this is going to affect communication and there's such great work on kind of how we support communication for people with aphasia that's so very important but you know we've also been very interested in like how does this actually affect measures of language, right? And are these demands and having a direct impact on spoken language production for people with aphasia and, you know again, kind of thinking about the relationships between kind of their environment and how people with aphasia function in terms of their language abilities.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, so that that's really a good segue into thinking about what are those cognitive challenges that prevent people from participating fully in communication.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, so you know we kind of just talked about things like people talking in the hall when you're trying to have a conversation, and you know I’d like to talk about a little bit of work that we're doing maybe in relation to kind of background noise. But you know before I go there, maybe a better starting point would be to think about kind of multitasking, which is hard for all of us, right?


Jerry Hoepner: Not sure if any of us really can multitask.


Tyson Harmon: yeah, it's kind of impossible actually, you kind of have to just shift your attention from one thing to another, even though we call it multitasking. But you know some of this work, about cognitive challenges or cognitive demands.


Again, focusing primarily on different types of environmental factors that can tax the attentional system. Actually, was born, as I was working on my dissertation and I became very interested in some of the previous work that had been done about attention and aphasia and some of Laura Murray's work, for example and you know, historically, you know, there was this interest in kind of the late 1990s early 2000s and attention and how that you know related to aphasia and kind of how dual task conditions might affect language, processing and people with aphasia and a lot of that was approached from a theoretical perspective to try to understand kind of the relationship between attention and language and how that is manifest in aphasia and all of that work was so influential in you know what I was thinking about as a doctoral student and I really kind of a approached my questions about attention and cognitive demands from I guess more of a practical perspective which or maybe a clinical perspective is a better way to put it which was more just like well let's figure out like regardless of theoretically the role that attention is playing in language processing per se and how it plays into kind of the big picture of how aphasia is manifest let's just think about how attentional demands are influencing people with aphasia and when they're trying to produce language and also think about you know how they are responding to these attentional demands and so I published an article with some of my colleagues in 2019 That was really kind of building off of some of Murray's work from the 1990s where we used a dual task paradigm to look at the effects of kind of complex attentional demands on narrative retail for people with mild or moderate aphasia and you know, we had for kind of our dual task condition we had these participants retell a story, while performing a tone discrimination tasks they had to discriminate between a high and a low tone, while in the process of retelling the story, we had 10 people with aphasia with moderate aphasia, and I should say 11 people with mild aphasia and impulse control participants and I think our findings were interesting and on one hand, they kind of confirmed what had been shown in the past, which was these attentional demands, you know, really take a toll on language production for people with aphasia more than their peers, who don't have aphasia but the other interesting thing that that we found, which was a little bit of a new insight, I think was that you know the control group so we back up a little bit so as I mentioned before everyone is affected by increased attentional demands right and that's not necessarily surprising and what our control group did is they slowed down significantly when retelling stories in order to maintain their accuracy and so they kind of allow themselves more processing time and then they were able to you know, continue to produce accurate language and the mild aphasia group did something similar, they just slowed down a lot more significantly more than the control group, but they also took a bit of a hit on at least language productivity right they weren't producing as much language during this retail experience so it did kind of affect them differently, even though they were trying to kind of compensate for those demands and the moderate aphasia group and really they took a the biggest hit in their accuracy, where they just and I had a really difficult time even producing accurate language during this story retail task when there were these complex attentional demands. So that's kind of one piece of work that we've done again kind of focused on the multitasking question or what we would call a divided attention condition. And the other one that I mentioned, I could talk about a little bit is a study that we actually just analyzed results from a few months ago, I have a thesis student her name is Brenda Nelson who's worked with me over the past two years, and she just graduated and has really done some great work during her time as graduate student here but she was kind of interested in in taking this idea of attentional demands and investigating and in a similar way how background noise might affect spoken language for people with aphasia so this is something we haven't even submitted for publication yet. We're kind of in the process of converting the thesis into an article, but so I’m not going to go into a lot of depth about the results or anything but I think it's a really interesting question that that Brenda has pursued and she's developed these different background noise conditions where she's tried to kind of simulate some types of everyday communication environments. So, there's a cocktail speech condition there's a lively conversation. There's a one-sided phone conversation. We were thinking, okay if somebody with aphasia was kind of in line at a grocery store and they're trying to have a conversation and there's somebody behind them on the phone what would that be like so it was really fun to kind of develop some of these conditions and think about how they might you know simulate some types of everyday communication contacts and yeah I think there there's some kind of interesting preliminary findings from her thesis work that you all can look out for the hopefully we'll get out soon so.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, and just as a little bit of a preview, more than just changes to language production or lexical production but also changes to speech and while speech for sure, in terms of the fluency of speech and so forth Is that correct.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah so, I mean I think we're, you know, one of the things that we're seeing across these background noise conditions, is it seems like you know speech efficiency or the information units per word that seems to be one of the key measures is really taking a hit for our aphasia participants, but not making you know the background noise isn't affecting that for our control group. And again, this is kind of preliminary work, so I don't think it's confirmatory by any means, but I think it's kind of pointing in this direction that yeah There does seem to be maybe some real changes that are that are happening in in terms of just spoken language, and then I you know there's kind of a qualitative piece of this to where we've interviewed these people after they've participated, we haven't even really started to analyze this part truly we're kind of in the process of just you know, really familiarizing ourselves with the data which is kind of the first step of this analysis process and I have another thesis student working on that that qualitative aspect of the question, but I had a conversation with her, the other day, and again like and I guess take this with a grain of salt, because this was just a conversation after she has spent like hours and hours with these data. So, I think it's meaningful but, again, we haven't done a true analysis, but one of the things that's really standing out to her, is that the facial participants really seem to be talking quite a bit about how much they have to focus on producing language when there's background noise. And the control participants are like oh I didn't I didn't even notice it, they just like totally you know, are able to kind of filter it out, it seems like based on some of these comments, so I found that interesting again we'll get some more kind of concrete data that will be able to report on, hopefully, in the next month or so.


Jerry Hoepner: So that'll be interesting to find out, I mean it's, it reminds me of something that a lot of my clients with mild aphasia say right, even when their production and their fluency is pretty normal they talk about that effort in order to be at that level I am working really, really hard. It's not as though it just rolls off the tongue it's difficult work to be a success, successful from a communication standpoint as they are, so I think that's a really important point to highlight as well.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, well in it, I guess, one other comment about that is um you know from some of the qualitative data we collected in conjunction with the multitasking project. You know that was another thing that kind of stood out to us as people were talking about how like they close their eyes or did you know different behaviors to essentially limit the amount of you know stimulation that they were receiving from the environment seemed in an effort to be able to really kind of put all of their resources into the language task right.


Jerry Hoepner: Right yeah, that makes sense. Do you have a sense of how those kinds of cognitive challenges and demands affect their participation in everyday communication?


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, that's such a great question we, and we have some work that we're actually doing right now, I think, is giving us, you know some preliminary kind of findings in that direction and so I guess you know to start out one of the things that I'll say in response to that question is, we do have a qualitative study that was published in 2020 where people kind of connect some of these intentionally demanding people with aphasia connect some of these potentially demanding kind of experimental conditions to what they experienced in their real life, and they are kind of making this connection they seems like and it's potentially demanding to do things like eat dinner with friends or talk, while driving they've had experiences I remember one of our participants talking about trying to go back to work, and it being so hard for her to have her boss talk to her, while she was trying to do something on the computer so just attending to those things at the same time. People have talked about kind of trying to control the TV while listening to their spouse obviously group settings tend to be a challenge, but in relation to your question, more directly. I think one thing that we're interested in is you know, is this actually affecting participation and you know in both have kind of the studies that I mentioned more from the qualitative standpoint, it does seem that people are kind of talking about this, how they're discouraged from participating when these demands are high. I remember one participant in particular, said that the some of the difficulties associated with these attention and demanding environments caused him to, and this is a direct quote from him, he said quote he became quote discouraged from saying anything. So, yeah, I mean again this is nothing confirmatory, but it makes sense right that, like when demands are so high, then you know people with aphasia going to have a harder time engaging in these communication opportunities yeah.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, and it kind of reminds me of some of the work by Dalemens  that said, you know you can have a hard time initiating those interactions even when you're surrounded by people I mean yeah being in a context with people communicating doesn't necessarily mean that you're participating in that context, and if the demands are really hard, especially in a group context you may be there, but not really engaging fully in that interaction so.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, absolutely. In reference to Dalemans’ work, which is just awesome, by the way, I really admire that work um you know just that that idea that you know engagement and participation isn't just about the amount of communication and experiences or opportunities right actually it's what people with aphasia really want is they want to engage in meaningful ways and maybe if they have a you know a smaller quantity of communication experiences, but those are meaningful and then that's really what matters, and I think that is connected to what we're talking about here because you know we're cognizant of kind of these demands, and the effect that they can have on meaningful engagement from people with aphasia. Then you know we're going to be better enabled to kind of think about you know how to prepare our clients for engaging in meaningful ways and supporting people with aphasia so that they can have that meaningful engagement yeah.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, I think that goes back to Dalemans’ comment about people with aphasia would prefer smaller quantities of high-quality meaningful engagement, rather than big quantities of not so meaningful interaction so yeah that's a really great connection to your work for sure. Well, maybe we can move towards a discussion about social challenges and what the factors are that contribute to those social challenges for communication after vision.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, sure I’d be happy to talk about that so. You know, first as a disclaimer you know there's all sorts of things we could think about in terms of cognitive and social challenges and we're really just kind of scratching the surface, on some of this with some of the work that I’ve done in the last few years and you know I’m really interested in how aphasia affects relationships in general but you know what I’d really like to kind of focus on during this interviews just some of the work that we've done in relation to kind of communication partner responsiveness and kind of emotional reactions, which is something that I’ve become increasingly interested in as well so should we start with maybe the communication partner responsiveness piece. I think that's a really great place to start I just think that when I read that work it's just such a fascinating and important concept right, the amount of.


Jerry Hoepner: Investment that the individual with aphasia perceives on the part of their partner and in terms of their interactions dictates how successful, they are the amount of stress that they carry about this, so I don't want to take all of your words out of your mouth so go ahead and delve into that just a little bit.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah absolutely um yeah so it just is, as you were saying you know we published, and this is part of my dissertation work they did with Katarina and Adam and published this study in 2020 and the essence was that we were interested in how responsiveness from a communication partner influenced spoken language directly for people with aphasia again, we had to kind of moderate to mild aphasia group and you know this was kind of a fun and interesting experiment to develop. We kind of thought about some of the principles and concepts and behaviors that are often involved in communication partner, training, but we wanted to develop something that you know, would allow people with aphasia to have an experience communicating with somebody who is you know, providing more kind of supportive mostly nonverbal feedback, so they weren't necessarily. You know, providing supports to help them get their message out, but they were just showing you know by how responsive, they were you know this kind of interest and engagement when the person with aphasia was talking, and so we had our participants with aphasia.


Jerry Hoepner: And can I interrupt for just a second because I wanted to highlight something that you talked about in the article about kind of useful or effective back channeling versus less effective, or almost intrusive back channeling. That just is so important in terms of thinking about those partners and how they kind of induce struggle or challenge, or how they support that success sorry to interrupt you sorry.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah no, absolutely yes. We kind of talked about this in the article is kind of these backchannel responses right where you know the participant or in this case, the case of this study, our participants with aphasia we're talking in in in the case of the supportive communication partners in the article we refer to these as responsive communication partners they're providing these backchannel responses. They show interest so they're nodding their head they're giving affirmations like they have an open body posture kind of leaning forward, you know all of these things that we would expect to show kind of interest and engagement and so that was kind of one of the conditions so who participants with aphasia were retelling the story with that partner, and in this case, we had students who were trained and we kind of had a protocol developed and made sure that we had fidelity that everybody kind of got a similar experience and then the non-supportive or unresponsive condition was where the communication partner was you know kind of showing these nonverbal behaviors they suggested disinterest they had a closed body posture they had poor eye contact and kind of this neutral facial expression every 20 seconds, or so it kind of just like looked away or glanced at their phone that was on the table and so we were able to kind of go through this and bring people through this experimental protocol, and then you know measure the outcomes of this in terms of spoken language production. Frankly, you know there wasn't a huge effect on the actual measures of language in this unresponsive communication partner condition. People in general did kind of slow down and we're a bit more can disfluent when talking to the unresponsive communication partner it wasn't much different between people with aphasia in the control group. Actually, the control group seemed to do that a bit more than the aphasia group not significantly, but just kind of on average.


But what was really interesting about this study and what I feel like one of the really key findings was at least for me was that when we analyzed the qualitative reports so we interviewed our participants after they went through this experimental protocol, and then we analyzed their comments about the experience, people with aphasia were talking about strong negative emotional reactions in response to that unresponsive communication partner and our control group they hardly talked about emotional reactions at all, and when they did, then they were kind of neutral, or sometimes even like more positive emotional reactions and, in that, combined with the fact that you know, in general, when kind of having this experience talking to an unresponsive communication partner people were self-reporting, you know kind of increased stress. I think that's important, and I think that you know the other thing that kind of adds to that that body of work is an additional kind of qualitative study that we did where you know people with aphasia were in at this point talking more about just their everyday communication situations and talked about how often they communicate with people who seem to be in a rush or who just give up on them or show signs of disrespect or disinterest and I mean this surreal thing that you know people, people with aphasia are experiencing and maybe it's not taking a huge hole in the moment on their language production but you know, I think that it has the potential to lead to these important kind of psychosocial impacts that may discourage participation down the road. And I mean, frankly in our qualitative work, one of the things that was surprising to us was how many participants described feeling kind of unsupported when communicating with familiar communication partners like family and friends which is why we thought about it more we were like okay I kind of makes sense because you know we're so close to those people we really get like the raw experience with them but you know, so I guess the point there is that, like if this is something that is a reality for people with aphasia and even when people aren't like blatantly poor communication partners, aren't blatantly rude like the notice when people are in a rush or when they you know aren't are not fully engaged or disinterested or ready for the conversation to be over. And it does have an effect, maybe even you know, maybe not on how they're producing language but on how they're feeling and the emotions that they're experiencing during that communicative exchange.



Jerry Hoepner: Yeah I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind, and both of those 2020 papers and we'll have all of these articles referenced at the end, so people can look them up and follow this important work but in both of those cases, you have listeners, who are unresponsive or less responsive in a hurry and that has that impact on their emotional kind of response you mentioned it may affect participation, but I almost wonder if it would affect their, you know, even though it didn't affect their language in that moment and wonder what the downstream effects are of you know, being with a partner who consistently is not responsive, in that way and you talked a little bit in one of those articles about what the person with aphasia might do to be able to kind of ameliorate or contend with that lack of responsiveness, you want to talk about that, just a little bit.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah and you know I think probably the, the best way to address, that is to talk a little bit about some of our findings from the kind of fully qualitative article, you know, one of the things that has been really intriguing for me to think about from the qualitative results of that study is strategies that some of our participants with aphasia were talking about that they use to kind of cope with the negative emotional responses and also some kind of the negative thoughts that are sometimes associated with the communication difficulties. So yeah, so why don't I maybe try to paint a little bit of a picture here for and what some of those findings were. So, you know, in that, in that study, one of the things that again just to kind of return to this, we were focused really on like everyday communication experiences so What are they doing in their actual life as they go out and communicate and kind of one of the themes was all about strategies that people with aphasia were using and you know it I think not necessarily so surprisingly most of them were talking about what I would consider behavioral strategies, so these were ways that they change their behaviors to kind of be more successful and in their communication experiences but what was more intriguing to me was the subset of participants who talked about what I would refer to as cognitive strategies things that they did to kind of change the way they were thinking or feeling in order to cope with these everyday communication challenges that they experienced and one of the things I think is interesting about what we learned from these participants is, I think it could you know potentially kind of serve as a launch point for some of the solutions that we might think about in terms of how to address some of this we're pretty good at the behavioral piece like we talked to people with aphasia about disclosing their aphasia and about you know advocating for themselves during conversation I think in these are things that you know they seem to be doing and they're obviously very important but maybe we don't think as much about how to address or how to help people with aphasia use strategies to cope with some of the negative thoughts and feelings, and so I think it's something that maybe we should think about a little bit more, and, obviously, for me, learning from people with aphasia what's already working for them is a great place to start. So, what we what we learned from these participants and, as I mentioned, it was just a subset of participants, I think it was about if I’m remembering correctly eight out of 21 participants that mentioned these strategies was that we kind of categorize these into three different areas of kind of things that they were doing. The first one was that some of these participants were talking about ways that they kind of changed their mindset to start thinking about challenges as opportunities for growth, and let me, maybe just read a couple quotes from our actual participants. One of them said listening is better than talking, most people doesn't listen, I mean I think I'm a better listener, and so this participant really thought that, because of aphasia become better at listening which is a bit of a kind of cognitive restructuring that probably happened right where instead of thinking about aphasia as a threat. She started to think about it as just a challenge that she could kind of face and use to grow, which I think is really interesting and there was another participant, who said aphasia is a good thing, not a bad thing so just again kind of looking at this and maybe a positive light, which really gets to you know some strategies that are used in in counseling psychology related to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is kind of that cognitive restructuring and kind of changing your thoughts I think you know, there are other ways to approach this from other kind of counseling psychology perspectives like acceptance and commitment therapy as well where you know they talk about cognitive diffusion and this idea of kind of separating yourself from your thoughts so, and you know you have kind of these negative thoughts that you recognize that those don't define you and they're not always true and just kind of letting them exist without having to combat them. So I think this is interesting and I actually want to acknowledge, like some of the great work that is happening right now throughout the world, related to kind of addressing some of these issues and I mean we could, I think, talk about several different groups are doing really interesting things kind of looking at how to integrate some of these counseling approaches with the work that we do in speech pathology with aphasia population. You know the other thing, so, in addition to change their mindset thinking of challenges is growth opportunities, some of our participants talked about empathy I really love this quote, so one of our participants said, ‘some people are nice and some people aren't.’ I try to remember that you don't know what other people are going through, because everybody's living a tough life and you don't know so obviously this person with more mild aphasia, but yeah I just I think this kind of got me thinking about okay like are there ways that we can you know train our clients to empathize and take the perspective of others and that's a I think an interesting thing to think about and then the third kind of category of these more cognitive strategies was positive attitudes. And again, and I think there's some great work and thought being put into how to integrate some you know positive psychology into the work that we do. I think positive self-talk seems to have a place in kind of helping people with aphasia address some of these negative thoughts and feelings that they might experience and so you know I think there's just some interesting kind of strategies that already seem to be working for a subset of our participants with aphasia but one thing that I didn't highlight, which I think I should is that almost all of these participants who talked about these cognitive strategies had been living with aphasia for a really long time, so I think it was like you know over 70% of the participants that that mentioned these. And so, you know that makes me wonder, are some of the you know the people who are living with aphasia having to kind of live with this for a long time before they start really getting a handle on some of the you know, some effective ways to deal with those negative thoughts and feelings and is there a way that we as speech pathologist in our role as communication counselors, right? Addressing thoughts feelings attitudes beliefs, as they relate to the communication disorder is there a way that we can maybe step in and integrate some of that earlier on which would be helpful to more people. So again, those are just some questions that I have related to some of this, but I think you know some of the solutions in my thinking, right now, some of the solutions that are really going to make the most impact in this space are those that are addressing both communication and, and so I guess the language side of aphasia as well as the psychosocial impact of aphasia as kind of a package deal.


Jerry Hoepner: Yeah, I really think that ties things up really nicely in terms of this discussion, I love the term ‘communication counselors’ or however you frame that. Sounds very much like something Katarina would say.


Tyson Harmon: Maybe I got that from her, actually.


Jerry Hoepner: Not sure, I’m going to tell her you came up with it first so it was really good. I, and I also want to emphasize the statement that you made about, you know, they've got these strategies but they've been living with aphasia for a long time, and how long did it take them to develop these strategies and is there a way that we can kind of shorten that trajectory and get them there a little bit more quickly, you know as I read that article I was thinking of the situations that we all have when we're having a conversation with someone who, maybe isn't paying attention to or we may be reading something into what they're thinking in the moment like, ooh the way they looked at me. Don't they like me? Or what a dumb idea that I just shared or whatever those internal thoughts are and having strategies specifically to deal with that have been kind of vetted at this point, a little bit by individuals with aphasia eight individuals with aphasia, but I think it's an interesting way to think about moving them closer to that by those strategies of changing their mindset of having empathy for their communication partners and being able to take their perspectives because they might be challenged at that moment as well, and then the positive self-talk and focusing on those positive attitudes as a way to kind of break that internal loop of, “I wonder what they're thinking about me or it doesn't seem like they're interested or it doesn't seem like they want to take the time.” So, I think those three things are a really good direction for us to take in terms of hopefully shortening that trajectory of people not having to figure this out over the course of eight to 10 years but, like you said, us as communication counselors being able to move them there a little bit more quickly if we know some strategies that work.


Tyson Harmon: Yeah, and I mean I, I agree, and I just I think, you know, this obviously is not like, you know, the solution, but I think it's a starting point. I think that's one of the things I love about qualitative work is that, you know, sometimes an appropriate starting point can be what's already working for a subset of people with aphasia and we can kind of in a way, almost follow their lead into kind of discovering ways to help more people and so I've really enjoyed kind of thinking about some of the work that I do in in that regard because, and I just think that we have so much to learn from the people that we serve, and hopefully we can help them learn from each other as well.


Jerry Hoepner: Absolutely, and what a great way to come full circle, as we started talking about stakeholder engaged research and for us to take their lead and to follow what they're already doing to be successful, so a fantastic way to kind of wrap things up. Boy, we could talk all afternoon, but this has been a terrific conversation, and thank you Tyson for joining us in this conversation and sharing these meaningful things and I thank you so much for having me.


Tyson Harmon: Absolutely.


Jerry Hoepner: On behalf of Aphasia Access, thank you for listening to this episode of the Aphasia Access Conversations Podcast. For more information on Aphasia Access and to access our growing library of materials go to If you have an idea for a future podcast series or topic, email us at Thanks again for your ongoing support of Aphasia Access.




Harmon, T. G. (2020). Everyday communication challenges in aphasia: Descriptions of experiences and coping strategies. Aphasiology, 34(10), 1270-1290.


Harmon, T. G., Jacks, A., Haley, K. L., & Bailliard, A. (2020). How responsiveness from a communication partner affects story retell in aphasia: Quantitative and qualitative findings. American journal of speech-language pathology, 29(1), 142-156.


Harmon, T. G., Jacks, A., Haley, K. L., & Bailliard, A. (2019). Dual-task effects on story retell for participants with moderate, mild, or no aphasia: Quantitative and qualitative findings. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 62(6), 1890-1905.


Harmon, T.G., Nielsen, C., Loveridge, C., & Williams, C. (under revision). Effects of positive and negative emotion on picture naming for people with mild to moderate aphasia. 


Scadden, B.D. (2020). The Impact of Background Noise on the Spoken Language of People with Mild to Moderate Aphasia: A Preliminary Investigation. Master’s Thesis at Brigham Young University. T. Harmon thesis chair/mentor.