INCA and Creativity

The INCA project aimed to use digital technology to promote creative expression on the part of people with aphasia.  Did we succeed?  I think we did.

We ran a series of workshops in which people with aphasia were given access to the INCA technologies and invited to explore and discuss their use.  The result was an inspiring collection of creative outputs, including visual art, comic strips, and MakeWrite poems. We also have the reflections of those involved, about what INCA meant to them.

So, how did INCA stimulate creativity?  Here, I offer three themes that emerged from the workshops, each of which is introduced by a quote from one of the participants. I also comment on the rehabilitative potential of these themes.

‘You managed to find the inner child in me’

The first theme is Play. Aphasia therapy often uses tasks. For example, we might provide a communicative target, such as a picture, that the person has to get across.  With the INCA technologies there was no task.  Rather, users had the opportunity to play with the materials in the apps; to manipulate pictures with INKER, to link words with images on CreaTable, or to build a comic strip.  Out of this play meanings emerged.  In almost all cases these meanings were not predicted at the start. But once they were on the screen they often started to resonate with the person’s life.  Connections might be made with a daughter’s engagement, or with imagined scenes, like a wartime dog fight.  When conventional language fails, we need new ways to convey meaning. Messing about with the INCA technologies proved to be one of those ways.

‘Three words enough’

Another facilitation was paradoxical.  It was constraint.  When you use the INCA tools, to some extent your hands are tied.  You can only work with the words that MakeWrite offers you or choose from the pictures that are already in CreateTable. With Comic Strip, you only have 3 frames.  Some of our users baulked at this and told us that they wanted more words, or a longer comic strip.  But for others, this was the cue to creativity. It made the tools possible.  You just had a few words, and this became manageable.  A whole page, or even worse a blank page, would be impossible.

‘We have been all true to ourselves’

A final theme relates to Identity.  Aphasia has been described as ‘Identity Theft’. With limited language it is difficult to talk about the events in your life, express your views, make jokes, be nice, or be rude and do all the things that say who we are. It was wonderful to see the INCA tools being used by our participants to say something about themselves: to convey family events or make off colour jokes about murder. They also provoked genuine conversations in which group members shared experiences or asserted their interests. In speech and language therapy we need activities that take language out of the clinic, into something more authentic.  The INCA technologies offer one mechanism for doing this.

So, a key insight from INCA is that creativity is preserved in aphasia. But this is not a new insight.  People with aphasia show creativity all the time. They show it in coping with the daily faff of getting their message across and in dealing with the myriad of problems thrown up by post stroke life.  The INCA tools allow the expression of creativity in new, and hopefully more enjoyable ways.  I am interested in the therapeutic potential of this.  Some people with aphasia struggle to find creative solutions to their aphasia, particularly in the early days post stroke.  It is hard to turn to new methods of communication or to adopt the necessary compensations.  Might a spell with the INCA technologies help to kick start such adaptation? Maybe it could.

Jane Marshall

A member of the INCA Project Team