By Pat Snyder, Author of Treasures in the Darkness
A little before Thanksgiving 2012, Lucy Butler, John’s speech therapist, suggested that he begin to work on scripts. Scripts are short stories about any topic. Since we were going to spend time with the family during Thanksgiving weekend, she suggested that John tell a story from his own past. She explained that grandparents have the job of passing on the stories from our past to the children and grandchildren. It is also a great way to connect with them and engage them in conversation.
One of John’s first symptoms with LBD was social withdrawal in the family. Another early symptom, which had gotten worse, was failure to initiate things. Lucy spoke about how important it is to initiate the story, to begin the conversation with the grandkids. I raised my hands in the air and said, “Yes!”
Lucy went on to elaborate about scripting. The script is to be kept very simple and short. Each sentence is to be numbered and typed in a large font. The script begins with, “Come over here, Michael, I want to tell you a story.”
John’s job is to read them each day in his “strong” voice to exercise his vocal chords, but also to build his confidence in speaking again. He does this along with other exercises for volume building. My job is to remind him to do it, listen and cue him when he does and help with construction and typing of the scripts. The pattern of over-learning the script makes it easier to actually tell the story when the LBD patient is in the real life setting.
John chose to tell the story of when he was a paperboy in Washington, DC. He practiced every day once I had typed out his script. We had decided that he would tell each of the three older grandsons in whatever combination happened as the Thanksgiving weekend unfolded. I assumed that I would need to remind and prompt John, but as we sat in our son, John David’s, family room, John called Nate over and said, “Come over here, Nate, I want to tell you a story.”
I got chills all over my arms and was thrilled to hear those words come out of his mouth loud and clear!
As I watched and listened with total delight, John began his story. Three year old Nate was captivated by the story. Liz and John David both asked questions as John made his way through the script and even embellished it along the way. Nate asked questions and made comments, too. A smooth conversation just unfolded into the room and was enjoyed by everyone there. They did not know until we told them later that it was all planned and that much practice had gone into the event. But John had initiated it and carried it beautifully the whole way. What a gift!
It felt like a window had been reopened in his brain. The entire weekend, he was more engaged. The grandsons, who each heard the story one at a time, all responded to him with more enthusiasm and warmth. John’s confidence was visible. He still needed rest frequently and still showed signs of LBD, but he was different socially. His facial expressions seemed more animated as well.
Lucy had also encouraged John to read nursery rhymes to the boys for practice of the musicality of spoken language. Paige videoed as John read to Jason and Michael one night. When it was over, she said, “Pops, that was just like when you read to me! I am so impressed!”
Jason, who had been the most reluctant of the grandsons to attach to John, soon after the nursery rhyme reading said, “I am going to change your name to Poppy. I am not going to call you Pops any more. You are Poppy now.” When I heard those words, my eyes filled with tears. It was his way of saying, “Now you are my grandfather.” The connection at long last had been made in his little four year old heart.
Now who would ever dream that such benefits could result from speech therapy? As soon as I said as much to Lucy Butler at John’s next appointment, her response was, “I would!”
John and I are both so very grateful to her for her robust practice of speech therapy, which has brought joy and reconnection into our family life again.