Chief of Staff Discusses Giffords’ Recovery, Struggles to Communicate
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is able to communicate through facial expressions and gestures but is yet unable to speak in complete sentences, according to an interview with her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, in the Arizona Republic. As E. J. Montini says, the fact that she survived the horrific shooting is “miraculous” in and of itself. Giffords is “about halfway through the process that is the most important time for recovery” as Carusone says, noting that the first 12 to 14 months are when “you make the biggest jumps.”
On January 8, 41-year-old Giffords was shot in the head outside a supermarket in Tucson. Federal Judge John Roll, Giffords aide Gabriel Zimmerman and four others were killed and 13 wounded. Jared Loughner has been charged with 49 felony counts for the shooting; last month, a federal judge ruled last month that he is too mentally ill to stand trial.
Says Carusone about Giffords’ ability to communicate:
“We do a lot of inferring with her because her communication skills have been impacted the most. If you think of it as someone who is able to communicate with you clearly, it is easy to test them. You can ask them a series of questions, and you can get clear answers back. Whereas with Gabby, what we’ve been able to infer and what we believe is that her comprehension is very good. I don’t know about percentage-wise or not, but it’s close to normal, if not normal.”
Giffords is, Carusone continues able to “express the basics of what she wants or needs” but “when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble.”
My autistic teenage son Charlie‘s speech could be similarly described. He speaks in what we call “utterances” of one to six words, and primarily to express basic needs such as food and things he’d like to do. He doesn’t use language to express abstract ideas or arguments. We think that he comprehends much, much more than he says, though — as Charlie doesn’t seem to be able to read more than some isolated words — we can’t say for sure. We rely a great deal on his body language, behavior and non-verbal sounds to figure out what Charlie is trying to tell us.
Many individuals with speech and communication disabilities use augmentative communication devices such as the Dynavox — and the iPad now, provided it’s equipped with certain apps — to communicate. The Arizona Republic does not indicate if Giffords is using such and I hope she might be. The touchscreen on the iPad is very easy for my son, who has some fine motor coordination issues, to use. Sometimes Charlie puts a photo on the screen of his iPad that, I am starting to think, tells us what he is thinking about, his grandparents, a ferris wheel ride, the ocean. While he can say these words, I have a feeling putting up the photo is perhaps less taxing than talking for him.
As Politico says, doctors have been “unable to determine the full extent of the damage done to Giffords’s brain.” Carusone notes that, because she still has bullet shards in her brain, they are unable to perform an MRI:
“She’s living. She’s alive. But if she were to plateau today, and this was as far as she gets, it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before. There’s no comparison. All that we can hope for is that she won’t plateau today and that she’ll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here.”
Carusone also emphasizes that it’s a “one-step-at-a-time process” and that they are “getting close to the time when Gabby will feel comfortable releasing a photo. Then, we go from there.”
Hoping that Giffords continues to recover and make progress.