Malachi is a confident, amusing and well-spoken man, so it is a surprise to find out that he has a problem with his....er...thingy. But it’s not what you think. Malachi has a problem with his nouns. After falling off his bike on the way back from the shops, he suffered a brain injury which left him with anomic aphasia, a difficulty in recalling nouns. He uses a member of the audience to illustrate what it would be like to have to talk to people without using nouns and sometimes using the wrong and inappropriate zebras- sorry, words.
Before his accident, Malachi prided himself on his use of language: it was part of what made him ‘him’. This entertaining presentation/performance (as he likes to call it) convinces me that he still has the gift of the gab, albeit he is changed, in surprising ways. During his recovery, Malachi realised that the language surrounding his condition (words like ‘flaw’, ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘perfect’) had had a negative effect on him, wearing away at his confidence. He found it difficult to talk about his speech and language ‘problem’ because it implied that he has or is something ‘unwelcome’ and ‘harmful’. So now he is much more thoughtful about how he uses his words. He remembers the time when the penny dropped: he was meeting a close friend who highlighted his description of her as “only having one arm” as her real problem. His use of the word ‘only’ made her feel deficient, as opposed to the objective fact that she was a woman with one arm.
Malachi’s presentation has made me think about how we sometimes use words in a way that is negative and bullying to ourselves as well as others, without even thinking about it. I am hoping that, true to the theme of the festival, the neuroplasticity of my brain will allow me to make changes in the way I use words. I will no longer refer to my attempts at something new as “rubbish” or label my childrens’ mistakes “stupid”. I will use words with more care. Neuroplasticity has allowed Malachi to adapt to his new situation. His new appreciation for the strength of the words he uses has inspired him to reframe the description of his condition to ask the question:
“Do you have a problem with my speech and language difference?” (AB)
- Anna Braithwaite
LINKS RELEVANT TO THIS DIAGNOSIS:
Debates around the necessity of helmets - https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/oct/12/bike-helmets-compulsory-seattle-amsterdam-cycling-safety http://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/1365/is-it-safer-to-wear-a-helmet
Anomic Aphasia - https://www.aphasia.org/aphasia-resources/anomic- aphasia/
Obama: Words Matter - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6NS9unm-OQ
Negative to Positive - http://www.goodnet.org/articles/how-to-turn-11-everyday-phrases-from-negative-positive