Club inspires Aphasia sufferers

Aphasia can affect anyone and makes communication difficult, but an Auckland club for people with the disorder is celebrating another year of success later this month.

The Gavel Club for people with Aphasia, ‘More than Words’ will hold its fourth graduation this Friday (21 October) at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki Innovation Campus.

‘More Than Words’ is run by the University’s Centre for Brain Research which provides members a way to rebuild their world, re-join conversations with family and friends and reconnect with their community.

Aphasia is a communication disorder that impairs the ability to speak, understand conversation, read, write and use numbers. It can be due to a stroke, tumour or brain injury.

This affects everyday life, as working, telling a story, sharing a memory, or conversing with friends or family becomes very difficult and sometimes impossible.

The club is specifically designed for the needs of people with aphasia. It gives members a unique opportunity to improve their communication, build confidence, gain leadership skills, and make friends in a mutually supportive learning environment.

Gavel Clubs are affiliated with Toastmasters International, the world’s largest organization for improving public speaking and leadership skills.

The Gavel Club has 16 members and hosts 33 meetings a year. Members travel from the wider Auckland region to attend meetings at the University’s Tamaki Campus.

Through weekly meetings, members experience both public speaking and leadership opportunities. This is done by giving both prepared and impromptu speeches and by taking on various meeting roles such as Chairman, Toastmaster, and General Evaluator.

Participants are supported during these meetings by a lead speech language therapist, Toastmasters mentors, spouses, and trained volunteers who provide communication support.

Club members have become champion research participants who have contributed to aphasia research since the formation of the Club in 2013; their communication confidence is measured at regular intervals.

The research has shown significant improvement in communication confidence when compared to the beginning of the Gavel Club in 2013 to the end of 2015.

This has translated into members feeling more confident about speaking during day-to-day conversations.

Often people with aphasia do not have much cause to celebrate because their world has shrunk significantly due to reduced communication skills. Since its inception, the Club hosts a Year-End Celebration every year.

This event recognises members’ hard-efforts and improvements over the year and gives them a reason to celebrate.

During the event, participants showcase their progress with public speaking and communication skills to an audience filled with family, friends, Toastmasters members from various clubs, University of Auckland staff and students and volunteers.

Members participate in a judged speech of the year contest and an award ceremony where all participants receive a certificate of completion. Awards are given to Speech of the Year, Most Improved Gavelier and Best Gavelier.

Last year was a banner year for the Gavel Club as half of its members presented at two national conferences including the New Zealand Speech Therapy Association Seminar and the Aphasia NZ biennial conference.

Many of these presentations were 20-30 minutes in length - a huge leap from the two to three minute speeches that were given three years ago. Members reported that the Gavel Club gave them the confidence and ability to step onto the national stage.

- Auckland University