Intercultural aphasia: new models of understanding for Indigenous populations

Document Type

Journal Article


Taylor and Francis


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Originally published as: Penn, C., Armstrong, E.M. (2017). Intercultural aphasia: new models of understanding for Indigenous populations. Aphasiology. 31(5), 563 - 594. Original article available here


Background: Indigenous health matters have largely been neglected in the speech-language pathology literature and have particular import for the aphasia clinician. The influence of culture on people’s experiences and expectations after an event such as stroke can vary widely and there is a need to understand the impact of context on assessment and therapy. Standard approaches may not be adequate or relevant, nor always ethical to apply. Examination of aphasia in contexts with Indigenous populations provides an opportunity to explore methods and approaches with socially complex and marginalised communities and to expand our understanding of the lived experience of aphasia.

Aims: The goal of this paper is to explore the role of culture in aphasia in Indigenous populations and drawing from a body of emerging research, highlight relevant dimensions of understanding and practice for the aphasia clinician.

Main Contribution: A series of qualitative studies undertaken with Indigenous people with aphasia in two separate contexts – Australia and South Africa – will be described and their findings considered along several dimensions. A consideration of methods of approach and understanding will be provided, followed by discussion of some central constructs. A series of conceptual and clinical propositions for culturally safe research and practice in aphasia will be derived from this evidence. Models of collaboration are derived which are decolonising and potentially transformative and supplement models of knowledge and intervention in a local community. Particular attention is paid to temporal and spatial issues, the role of family, identity and community, the notion of resilience in such communities and addressing some of the specific challenges that may be involved such as working with cultural brokers. A series of recommendations is provided which allows for a critical engagement with interdisciplinary frameworks of understanding aphasia in context.

Conclusion: As a reflective piece, this paper has enabled a collation of knowledge about aphasia in two Indigenous cultures and has helped consolidate some novel principles and insights and the need for expanded skills, attitudes, insights, explanations and methodologies – ones that acknowledge and accommodate diversity and difference, and that are relevant to Indigenous communities. Language difficulties are only one cause of social exclusion and issues such as poverty and identity make a huge impact on the lives of our clients and their families, and on the approach we adopt. A shift from the primary framework of our profession is required to accommodate the central role of culture in communication.