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Initiating topic with and without aphasia (Leaman & Edmonds, 2019)

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posted on 06.09.2019 by Marion C. Leaman, Lisa A. Edmonds
Purpose: The ability to initiate new topics of conversation is a basic skill integral to communicative independence and agency that is susceptible to breakdown in aphasia (Barnes, Candlin, & Ferguson, 2013), yet this discourse skill has received little research attention. Healthy adults (HAs) follow 3 established patterns of structural organization to cue the conversation partner when an utterance is intended to initiate a new topic (Schegloff & Sacks, 1973; Svennevig, 1999). In addition, speakers have the option to use these mechanisms of topic initiation (TI) individually or in conjunction with one another. Occasionally, speakers do not follow these conversational macrostructure expectations, in which case TI occurs abruptly, referred to as a noncoherent TI (NC-TI; Mentis & Prutting, 1991). Understanding how TI is disrupted by aphasia requires foundational knowledge regarding the relative use/combined use of TI mechanisms and NC-TI in HAs and persons with aphasia (PWAs). The purpose of this study is to investigate how PWAs and their conversation partners initiate new topics of conversation and to determine the relationship between the number of TI methods used and communicative success (CS) in persons with mild aphasia (PWA-Mild) and persons with moderate and severe aphasia (PWA-Mod/Sev).
Method: Six PWA-Mild and 4 PWA-Mod/Sev engaged in 15-min unstructured conversations with different HA partners. Utterances were coded for types of TI used by both partners and were evaluated for CS using a 4-point scale (Leaman & Edmonds, 2019) for PWAs.
Results/Implications: PWAs used NC-TI with a much greater frequency than HAs who never used NC-TI. The rate of NC-TI was associated with increased severity of aphasia. HAs and PWA-Mild used cohesion most often as the method for TI, while PWA-Mod/Sev used it least often. CS was moderately positively correlated with the number of methods of TI used in PWA-Mod/Sev. However, no such correlation existed for PWA-Mild; this group achieved a high degree of CS on TI utterances, independent of the number of methods of TI used. Findings include the clinical implication suggesting PWA-Mod/Sev may benefit from simultaneous use of TI mechanisms to achieve better CS during conversation.

Supplemental Material S1. Partner groups: methods of topic initiation, types of cohesion, number of concurrent methods.

Leaman, M. C., & Edmonds, L. A. (2019). “By the way”… how persons with aphasia and their communication partners initiate new topics of conversation. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_AJSLP-CAC48-18-0198

Publisher Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: Select Papers From the 48th Clinical Aphasiology Conference.