Disorders resulting from damage to parts of the brain

Problems with speaking, listening, reading, writing

Aphasia is a disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain language. Aphasia causes problems with any or all of the following: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Damage to the left side of the brain causes aphasia for most right-handers and about half of left-handers. Individuals who experience damage to the right side of the brain may have additional difficulties beyond speech and language (see cognitive-linguistic disorders).

Individuals with aphasia may also have other problems, such as dysarthria, apraxia, or swallowing difficulties.

What are some of the symptoms of Aphasia?

Some people with aphasia have trouble using words and sentences (expressive aphasia). Some have problems understanding others (receptive aphasia). Others with aphasia struggle with both using words and understanding (global aphasia).

Aphasia can cause problems with spoken language (talking and understanding) and written language (reading and writing). Typically, reading and writing are more impaired than talking or understanding.

Aphasia may be mild or severe. The severity of communication difficulties depends on the amount and location of the damage to the brain.

A Person with Mild Aphasia

  • may be able to carry on normal conversations in many settings
  • may have trouble understanding language when it is long and/or complex
  • may have trouble finding the words (called anomia) to express an idea or explain himself/herself-this is like having a word “on the tip of your tongue”
  • may not understand anything that is said to him/her
  • may say little or nothing at all
  • may make approximations of common phrases, such as “yes,” “no,” “hi,” and “thanks”

Characteristics of Expressive Aphasia

  • Speaks only in single words (e.g., names of objects)
  • Speaks in short, fragmented phrases
  • Omits smaller words like “the,” “of,” and “and” (so message sounds like a telegram)
  • Puts words in wrong order
  • Switches sounds and/or words (e.g., bed is called table or dishwasher a “wish dasher”)
  • Makes up words (e.g., jargon)
  • Strings together nonsense words and real words fluently but makes no sense

Characteristics of Receptive Aphasia

  • Requires extra time to understand spoken messages (e.g., like translating a foreign language)
  • Finds if very hard to follow fast speech (e.g., radio or television news)
  • Misinterprets subtleties of language-takes the literal meaning of figurative speech (e.g., “it’s raining cats and dogs”)

How is aphasia diagnosed?

The Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) works collaboratively with the person’s family and other professionals (doctors, nurses, neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers) to address all of the person’s needs. For example, a person who has had a stroke often has physical problems, such as weakness on one side of the body, that require treatment from a physical or occupational therapist.

The SLP evaluates the individual and determines the type and severity of aphasia. The evaluation is done by assessing the following areas of communication:


  • Fluency, vocal quality, and loudness
  • How clearly the person speaks
  • Strength and coordination of the speech muscles (tongue, lips)


  • Understanding and use of vocabulary (semantics) and grammar (syntax)
  • Understanding and answering both yes-no (e.g., Is your name Bob?) and Wh-questions (e.g., What do you do with a hammer?)
  • Understanding extended speech-the person listens to a short story or factual passage and answers fact-based (the answers are in the passage) and inferential (the patient must arrive at a conclusion based on information gathered from the reading) questions about the material
  • Ability to follow directions that increase in both length and complexity
  • Ability to tell an extended story (language sample) both verbally and in written form


  • Can the person tell the steps needed to complete a task or can he or she tell a story, centering on a topic and chaining a sequence of events together?
  • Can he or she describe the “plot” in an action picture?
  • Is his or her narrative coherent or is it difficult to follow?
  • Can the person recall the words he or she needs to express ideas?
  • Is the person expressing himself or herself in complete sentences, telegraphic sentences or phrases, or single words?


  • Social communication skills (pragmatic language)
  • Ability to interpret or explain jokes, sarcastic comments, absurdities in stories or pictures (e.g., What is strange about a person using an umbrella on a sunny day?)
  • Ability to initiate conversation, take turns during a discussion, and express thoughts clearly using a variety of words and sentences
  • Ability to clarify or restate when his or her conversational partner does not understand Reading and Writing
  • Reading and writing of letters, words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs

For services related to aphasia and aphasia type disorders, please contact Crossroad Speech and Occupational Therapy.

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