In this post I reveal a personal detail that I’ve never shared before online and quite rarely in off-line situations – I have a mild form of Aphasia. In this post I share the significance of this. I trust that it may help others identify similarities in their own situation.
First, I would note that my Aphasia is self-diagnosed. No scientist or specialist has had a go at me on this one!
Secondly, I am not a shrink nor a doctor so this is a layman’s post, albeit one from a guy who has spent a lot of years ‘working it all out’.
Thirdly, I assess my issues as “mild” and do not wish to use any Aphasia as an excuse for any communication difficulties!
While there are many symptoms and a range of challenges in regards to Aphasia, mine is best understood as having ‘slow ears’.
In fact I can hear a pin drop at 50 paces and pick out the entire instrument range in a classical orchestra, easily humming along to the oboe, trombones, second fiddle or timpani in any classical work you care to name, but if I hear an unfamiliar sound (like a word in a foreign language) I simply cannot, for the life of me ‘get it’ first up. It needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated sometimes for weeks or months before I ‘get it’!
Some examples from the practical world.
I bought a Prado Landcruiser, imported from Japan. Every time I turned the ignition on the Japanese girl hiding under the bonnet would remind me to “Har door jakati sek!” I tried for about four years to repeat that sound to Japanese people for a translation but to no avail. Nobody could understand what I was hearing from this little Japanese girl then trying to repeat. Eventually someone DID partially recognise and guess what it was, saying the phrase in some resemblance to what I was hearing. It was a reminder to put a credit card into the Japanese auto sensing toll system, so I simply cut the cables to the card system, the sensors and the little speaker under the dashboard and my Japanese language challenge disappeared (along with the little obnoxious Japanese girl under the bonnet who would speak those horrible sounds at me!)
I sometimes play a little game with guests here at Camp Samoa to explain what I hear . . . I ask them to say something simple in their own language. I then repeat what I actually hear and they always crack up laughing for I have always gotten it very wrong. If they say for example, “wie ist das Wetter heute” which means, “what is the weather like today?” in German, pronounced something like, VEE IST DAS WETTER HOITER, I could repeat something like “We is tyse weffer height a” much to their amusement.
When I first arrived in Samoa I tried to learn the Samoan word for Thank You. It took me 5 weeks – yes literally! Faafetai, if you really want to know. Easy now, but at 5 weeks I still hadn’t ‘got it’ and tried to say thanks to a guy on the street, “Faa–, Fee-, Fo’o . . . oh F*ck it . . . [In the end I gave up and said . . .] Thank you!”, forcing me out of embarrassment to go home and write it all down and memorise it. For almost two years though I confused Faafetai (thanks) with Faa (Bye) often saying the wrong thing until my brain had learned the new auditory patterns well enough to get it right!
At school I failed French lessons with thirty something percent in my final exams, and only six percent in Latin. How I even got that beats me, but I must have spelled something right! I passed Maori studies at teacher’s Training College in Epsom (a compulsory pass subject) with 50%. I approached the lecturer with a little surprise at my pass. He admitted that he had “rounded me up” because it was a compulsory pass subject. When I asked what he rounded me up from, his reply spoke volumes. “We won’t go there Dennis!” I pressed the issue and asked why he did that and he was rather direct. “Well you can’t speak Maori for sh*t but you have a heart for the culture and that’s what’s important to us!”
This is a revealing statement for it is the reason that I can engage with Samoa and the Samoan culture as I do. Like Helen Keller had reduced vision and hearing but an enlarged capacity to understand human dynamics, so too it appears that I have slow ears; basically I can’t speak Samoan for sh*t either, but have a heart for the culture. It also helps that my children are as half Maori as it is possible to be in this day and age thus I have enough experience with the Polynesian culture not to be frightened at some of the idiosyncrasies that surround me! To the people in Samoa (who all have a nominal Christian belief) I often explain it that, “God has closed my ears to speaking the language, but has opened my heart to understand the culture”. That sums it up pretty simply.
I find it interesting that unbeknownst to me at the age of 19 I taught a young man sign-language in South Auckland. He had been diagnosed with Aphasia, quite a serious case actually with total inability to recognise words via sound. I had learned sign language at Homai school for the blind as a volunteer (yes they had deaf and blind kids there in various degrees of handicap and we learned the early Kelston School for the Deaf variant of the language when it first came out) and worked with this boy to teach him structured sentences via sign language. He did quite well with 100% visual communication but simply had nothing connect up top when it came to interpreting sound. He could hear a pin drop too! After he responded really well we found out that his mother had been signing to him for years since he was a baby and it was at 12 years old that the school system finally worked out that shouting words at the boy and treating him like an idiot wasn’t working! Typical eh?
There are other issues that Aphasia introduces, some of them a little challenging. When speaking, I pause frequently to select the words I am seeking. If I am free to speak and am familiar with a topic I can do so fluently and have a good vocabulary. When under pressure though, such as in a conflict situation or talking about an unfamiliar subject, or when tackling something challenging, or when I am tired, it might take me a second, or sometimes two seconds to ‘find’ the right word I am looking for from my memory bank and then spit it out! It makes for a challenge for listeners but hey, that’s why I enjoy writing!
On that subject, the written word has always been my best personal outlet – for what is inside. As a teenager I first connected to the inner voice when I took pen to paper and just wrote (page after page actually) random thoughts as they just came to mind. As I came to know the presence of the Holy Spirit, it was through the typewriter that my prayers had greatest meaning, and even to this day it is when typing (and playing the piano) that I can pray the most effectively.
The other thing is that my mild form of Aphasia has had little impact on my intellect. Nobody that I can ever recall has called me thick!
I view Aphasia as an anomaly, not the norm, but it’s not a major handicap and does have benefits with increased capacity to understand non-verbal things. Yes, in some social situations I would like to be able to ‘cut the mustard’ in the spoken word at the speed and quality of others but the written word is sufficient for 99% of my needs.
When speaking to me some things help with good communication:
Background noises make hearing more challenging, and the first part of any sudden noise will generally miss my receptors until I can ‘zero-in’ on the sound, so simply saying “Dennis [or Tenisi] prior to speaking to me means that I have a split second to focus attention on the source of the new sound and I can pick up the entire message.
Mumblers or those talking away from me generally have to repeat their communications more directly!
I use lip-reading and body-language to help me ‘hear’ things in a way that makes sense. I can hear the sounds perfectly well at a straight hearing level but seeing things like a face, lips or eyebrow movements and so on helps quite a bit.
I am a visual learner – when I write new words/sounds down I convert the sound into a visual imprint and this helps me enormously to retain the sound. Names for example here in Samoa are very different, so when I hear the name of a new person I always ask them to spell it. When I hear the letters, I mentally convert the sound to a visual symbol in my mind and most of the time I retain the name well.
There . . . now you know. I hope you found this interesting and perhaps helpful! Search Aphasia on Google for more learned run downs on it. This is just my story.