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The Suspect Speaker

In New Zealand, more than 30,000 people have aphasia.

Aphasia is the loss of a previously held ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language, resulting from damage to the brain caused by injury or disease. It doesn’t affect intellect. It is a communication disorder.

BUT - how many people know about the effect that aphasia wreaks on an individual?

The frustrations and the blessings, anger and opportunities, that living with aphasia brings.

And not only the person who has aphasia.

It significantly affects the families, carers and supporters as well.

The Suspect Speaker by James Stephens, aims to illustrate the effect of aphasia on individuals, their families and supporters. And it can help to bring awareness to other people who have no idea about this condition.

The Suspect Speaker comprises 15 short short stories, and each one has three different versions – an A, B, and C version.

The A version is for people who have aphasia that have difficulty in reading. The sentences are compact and descriptions are sparse.

The C versions is for people with aphasia who can read, or who like to be read to, by their supporters and carers. The B versions are in-between.

James Stephens has aphasia himself. He was a teacher, musician and music director, a journalist and event manager – as well as a husband, father and grandfather. He was a voracious reader, a fluent writer and confident speaker.

James had a stroke in January 2015.

He collapsed, paralysed on his right side. The hospital intervention was rapid and they administered a ‘clot-busting’ injection. His limbs were free but his speech was … absent.

Most of our conversation is by email. Talking is still difficult for James.

‘Most of that year, I was a ‘stunned mullet’ – dazed and uncomprehending. My brain said: “Huh! I have a stroke. Ah well.’ My wife and family were more concerned than I was! Now I realise, that I was quite impaired.’

The particular presentation of James’s aphasia made it impossible to work in his old careers. He could understand one or two people – if they spoke slowly – but a meeting or a crowd of people was too much. His speaking is still hesitant or stuck. Optimistically he reinvented himself, electing to view his stroke as a ‘stroke of luck’.

‘My aphasia forced me to look at my life differently. My expected biography has changed. Now, I am an author!’


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