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There is a great deal of information on the web about stroke and its affect on people. There is, however, little information out there about how it may effect deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary language. We hope this page will help members of the Deaf Community and their families and friends understand the ways stroke can affect the language abilities of ASL users.

  It is estimated that nearly 5,000 members of the Deaf Community in the United States have survived a stroke. Here are some links to more information about stroke.

  More than 1,000 of these individuals have problems with their sign language abilities. These problems may be either in signing or in understanding signing. This is called Aphasia, and we have provided some links for more information.

Some kinds of problems may include:

  • Understanding other people's signs
  • Fingerspelling too much
  • Not being able to fingerspell well
  • Making incorrect signs
  • Making incorrect movements for signs
  • Making signs in the wrong location
  • Can't think of correct sign
  • Can't set things up in space well
  • Staying on the right topic
  • We have found that these problems usually make communication difficult for the person. Often, they end up not going out to see friends, and people stop coming to see them. This can lead to depression and isolation.

      We are a team of researchers looking at the impact of brain damage on ASL. Most of the people we research are those who have had a stroke. Led by Ursula Bellugi, the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience at The Salk Institute has been working with deaf people for nearly 20 years.

      Many interesting things have been learned, and we plan to share much of that with you through this web page. We will keep adding and improving this page over time to share more information with deaf people, medical professionals and therapists, and other researchers. It is hoped that our research can help these groups to understand how this affects deaf people. We do not do treatment, though we do hope those in that field will use our research in developing appropriate plans for their patients.

      Our research is focused on understanding how ASL is processed in the brain; we are not a medical or treatment facility. Through our research we can:

    • Better understand the way language is processed in the brain
    • Identify the differences between spoken and signed languages

    Our research can be used by others to help:

    • Doctors know which areas may be more important when performing brain surgery.
    • Therapists develop treatment plans for regaining ASL skills.
    • Family and friends understand the problems and use this information to have better communication with deaf people who had strokes.

    Do you know someone who is deaf and has had a stroke?


    Please call us at the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience by calling videophone (858) 768-0476 or speak directly with Cindy Farnady or email her at DeafStroke@salk.edu.

    The Sign Aphasia Research Team

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