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A group of Communication Disorders graduate students colloquially known as the CSD Cinema Club had their first gathering of the semester. The group watched My Beautiful Broken Brain, a Netflix documentary about a 34 year-old woman named Lotje Sodderland who suffers a stroke as a result of a rare vascular malformation. In her words, she woke up that morning to a “new planet.” Luckily she survived, though her stroke left her with a severe form of aphasia, as she lost her ability to read, write, or speak coherently. Colors felt newer and brighter, sounds became noise and emotions were more raw and more foreign than ever before.
Before her stroke, Lotje worked with film and video professionally, so from early on, she reflexively uses her phone to record her recovery, major setbacks, emotions, and thought provoking reflections. A documentary film marker, Sophie Robinson, and famous movie producer, David Lynch, were contacted early on to help document her journey. As a team, they documented her extensive in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation, which included visits to occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists and psychiatrists. She even participated in an experimental trial of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatments which may have caused a subsequent epileptic seizure.
The Master’s in Communication Sciences & Disorders at Emerson College includes coursework on neuroscience and aphasia (loss of language ability), and during their clinical training students have the opportunity to work with clients who have experienced strokes. Given this, the group discussed implications for clinical practice afterwards, finding the first-person perspective particularly valuable. In the documentary, we see Lotje shuttled from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, and various facilities. We see her receive difficult news, and see her guilted by a scientist who wanted to use her in an experimental trial. As future clinicians, it’s important for us to see that the recovery process for an individual consists of so much more than just the 30 minute or hour long sessions we spend with them. Almost no problem is an isolated one with a clear road to recovery, and there is an intelligent and feeling human at the core of every such journey.
More recently, the group screened the documentary Autism in Love in time for Valentine’s Day. Autism in Love is a profound documentary about four autistic adults who seek out and manage romantic relationships. CSD students take a semester-long course on Autism Spectrum Disorders, and it is a key area of interest for several of our faculty members. Most of our connections with individuals with ASD happens during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. It’s therefore vital for us to see what life looks like for adults with ASD who are striving to live full and independent lives. The group found the film to be tremendously moving and inspirational, and it reminded us that simply because a person may struggle with communication does not mean that s/he is disinterested in communication or human connection.
The group hopes to continue screening speech and communication-related films monthly. Some future titles include: The King’s Speech, Sound and Fury, Stutterer, Horse Boy, Arrival, Temple Grandin, and The Miracle Worker.
About the authors
Sarah-Anne Tanner is a Boston native in her first year of the MS in Communication Sciences & Disorders at Emerson. She has a Bachelor’s in History from Wesleyan University and currently lives in Somerville.