Communication: Shall we dance?

I have always been fascinated with behavior, and especially as it pertains to communication. I still enjoy watching lightbulbs click on as people have their “ah-ha” moments, when that certain something clicks as they discover the connection that had just previously eluded them. I think I am even more fascinated with communication because of my increased awareness since having acquired the rare Foreign Accent Syndrome.

I tell my child and adult students attempting to train their dogs a behavior. “The dog wants to please. You want it to do something. However neither of you “speaks” the same language, so how do you communicate?” Enter the beauty of studying BEHAVIOR and COMMUNICATION.

All living things NEED to communicate to live. The forms of communication differ, but they MUST get their needs met, and that always requires someone, or something else. God designed it that way. So there is a universal need to be understood! We all need to eat, be safe, and to propagate the species. To do that we need to cause something to happen. The ideal way is a partner and to do this we must communicate.

One of the best ways to be understood is to consider the audience with which you are trying to communicate. It falls upon you to do a little research on your recipient. HOW do they best listen? WHAT causes pleasure or fear in the listener? WHAT approach must I then attempt? HOW will I adjust dependent upon their reaction?

What I teach in our dog obedience class is that even when we don’t “speak” the same language –very meaningful communication IS happening. Most of our communication is NON-verbal. For example the emotions are seen in the eyes, the attitude in the posture, the overall acceptance or understanding (or lack thereof) in the behavior that follows.  I LOVE it!

Understanding is vital! So choosing the words carefully and even the timing in speaking those words is a skill that we can spend a lifetime improving upon! So many times great pain can be caused by misunderstandings. ALL of us have been on both the receiving and delivering sides of a cutting remark or misspoken word. The righteous person will acknowledge his error, ask for forgiveness and set himself straight on the path to greater wisdom in the future.

A person who is “hurt” by someone else’s words should have the self-control to take a step back and look at the big picture. So often our interpretations of a word are based on our own personal history, or even more often upon our current emotional state. None of which the speaker may have been aware. I find it best to give the benefit of the doubt to the speaker as they may truly be ignorant. Therefore, I will not “snap” first, and then regret my own error in judgement.

Communicating is like a dance. I take a step. It’s your turn. Who will lead? Who will follow? Or does this dance allow independent movements in close proximity? Regardless, it takes the willing participation of both parties and it is a beautiful thing when done well and a train wreck when it isn’t!

Two people can sit in the corner all night long when neither one takes the initiative to make the first move. One may cross the room in an act of friendliness toward the other. Or they may both meet in the center of the room. There is a type of friendly approach, seeking to get to know another person, to share an experience or to enrich lives through mutual discovery. On the other hand, there are people who are cynical and might see an approaching stranger as some form of threat. Still others may fly off the handle at a misspoken word or misunderstanding. All in all — communication is very much of a dance.

How sad is it to see a girl sitting all alone while her friends are enjoying the evening out on the floor? She wishes ‘someone’ whould just come up to even talk with her; although a dance might be fun as well. Then there is a boy over there thinking to himself,  “I wonder who SHE is? I’d ask that girl if she’d care to dance, but she’d probably just say ‘no’?” He lets his negative thinking fritter away his evening.

Sometimes I wanna shake up the pot and say “COME ON PEOPLE!”–Take a chance. Until you try, you’ll never know. Girly, you’ve got legs. You can raise up and smile at the fellow can’t you? Present yourself as a friendly and approachable sort and you will welcome many more happy times into your life.

And you, young man…Where’s your confidence? You’ve been rejected before, you say? Who hasn’t? But if every past failure thwarted a future attempt, where would anyone be? I’m not saying to bowl over there like a mad bull after red, but what harm is there in slowly walking up to someone, smiling and wishing a good evening? Ha! Give it a try, I say~

Obviously this little highschool dance scenario is only an illustration. It isn’t all about boy/girl relationships and dancing. My point is, have you ever stopped to consider that in this world we are given opportunities to “dance” with those around us via our communication and behavior skills? We all can have an impact: good or bad; accepting or rejecting; caring or careless; inspiring or despairing; genuine or fake.

Proverbs 24:14 (NIV)
Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

Have you thought about this? When sitting in a chair at the Big Dance in the Ballroom of Life. . . what kind of dance partner are you?

Foreign Accent Syndrome – observe and report

It’s with great passion that I seek to assemble news and reports on Foreign Accent Syndrome. Since I first acquired it in May 2009, I have been astounded at how little information there is on this medical condition. Because it is an extremely rare condition (with between 50-100 cases worldwide — ever); it is even harder to find information about FAS. It is even MORE difficult to find “quality” reporting on it. So when I find it, I want to share it!  Perhaps those who come along behind me with a brand new occurrence of FAS, will have somewhere to obtain real, useful information amongst all the cynical, critical and downright nasty comments that some have put out.

A PERSONAL BLOG –Even though I had read this blog post some time ago, I believe that it is so nicely done that I thought I’d share it here. Notice how the author, Arthur Greenblatt, does such a nice job of incorporating the news of the day with an event in his own personal life: 1) the facts are clearly stated. 2) Although there is an outside article as an anchor to his post, he has cited the source, date, publication and author 3) The source he used presents a lot of foundational information on Foreign Accent Syndrome.

I will give the link to his personal blog post here >>> Arthur’s Days Blog post on FAS

A VIDEO ==Above is a video of Ms. Robin Jenks Vanderlip describing the challenges in her life and speech after suffering a head injuryin 2007 that  resulted in what doctors call Foreign Accent Syndrome. Vanderlip, a Pennsylvania native, speaks with what sounds like a Russian accent. (this comes from the same Washington Post article cited below).  SEE how much actually watching and hearing for yourself adds to the authenticity of the post?!

AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE –The Article, Fairfax Woman Developed Russian Accent After Head Injury, By Brigid Schulte. Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, May 30, 2010 is excellent at presenting facts in an interesting personal approach without sensationalism. Here is why I believe it is A+ Article:

A) The History of Foreign Accent Syndrome

B) Individual Cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome

C) Some noticeable distinctive features of the pronunciations and differences with Foreign Accent Syndrome

D) Names, at least one sufferer and one researcher/doctor plus many other examples of cases where names are not given, but features are.

E) The PERSONAL experience of sufferer being further harmed by public pundits statements and the added poor public opinion that such generates.

All of these together, make me wish to extend a “heroin of journalism for the sake of the sufferer” award to Ms. Schulte. This is one example of effective, well done journalism that I wish to continue to broadcast!

Since 2009 I have been amassing numerous articles and tried to contact fellow FAS sufferers. There is now a group of us who are in contact from around the world who are there to support one another in the unique challenges that arise with speaking all the time in a foreign accented voice with which we were neither born nor able to change back.

Perhaps Mr. Schulte or some other journalist of such skill will take another look at the newer cases and any new research being done with this very rare condition that seems to be less rare now as more and more cases are emerging. The first step toward fighting ignorance is GOOD reporting. Plus, there is something that makes it all the more effective when reporting about Foreign Accent Syndrome is done to show the personal side of the story!


What do you think about this post?  Your opinion matters! What you think and ask can help us all make new discoveries, so please feel free to add a comment or question below. Thanks.

“ACTION” . . . or not

Ellen’s A&E Filming Tale       By Ellen Spencer on 2012.03.04

It's time for ACTION !

~~A Day of Hope & Promises~~

Saturday, May 15th, 2010. It was a very fatiguing  day filming (15 hrs. Different locations and wardrobe changes), but it was well worth it.

I was contacted by a California production crew who were legit and creating a pilot for a new science series to be aired on A&E. This was the day they arranged to fly in to film my story. The crew was fantastic!

There were legal papers signed, confidentiality, permissions, location filming paperwork, etc. Of course, my husband read these things first. My entire family was involved and interviewed as well. Also a dear friend agreed to meet (husband called & explained that there was a surprise and film crew involved). Bob is a friend that had been closer than a brother from our old church and music ministry with us, but he had not heard the news of my FAS nor heard me speak with changed voice yet. They wanted to capture his initial shock on film. Etc. Again very well done.

The production team filmed me as the had me talk to Dr. Jack Ryalls over a speakerphone call that they prearranged. Then I was told by Dr. Jack on that call … Yeh, sure, he’d be happy to send me several contacts of FAS experts that he know so that I could seek help. Even mentioned some universities who were holding research and doing more precise fMRI and other brain scans and speech analysis than were not being found in my area. He told me on that call that he would email me those contacts As well as files/articles of others who had FAS but now regained their original voice. He told us that he was pretty sure that my original voice would return. I cried! Tears of hope! All of it was caught on film.

Then, in mid afternoon the film producer had arranged a professional accent coach to visit me at home. She drove to Indy from Chicago just to meet with me. Like my good friend, she was not given details about my FAS so that they could film her shock at hearing me speak for the first time.

Her career is helping people acquire, practice and perfect accent. She routinely teaches actors like Kevin Costner ready for a Hollywood film through coaching and speech exercises. This lovely Christian lady hit it off with me right away.

They wanted to have her tell them “where is her accent from?” then I explained FAS and what little I knew about it.

They filmed her running some short accent/deaccenting exercises with me after I sang (in my normal voice). She offered to coach me for free up in Chicago, just contact her. The producer said he would arrange that.

Finally after a very favorable and professional day of filming for 15 hours, I knew there was a crew of four guys and a professional accent coach who had erased their prior scepticism of Foreign Accent Syndrome being very real and fascinating. Not only that, but as they prepared to leave our home that day, every single one of them expressed genuine care & concern as a new-found friend.

They were on a super tight schedule or they’d like to visit more.. go out to dinner together, etc.  I still am friended up with: the Asst. Producer who was in charge of the project; the main camera man (who films The Amazing Race, Pit Boss and other well known shows –He has GREAT stories!) ; another young man in the crew was “Straight-Edge” so I learned about that culture as well. Memories and friendships were made on that day.

I was told by the producer that it would take them a couple of weeks to finish the editing to produce the story for presentation to A&E and then they’d send me a copy.  Ultimately the run date would be up to A&E. This series project was slated for possible fall line-up (2010) When they had a date of airing they would let me know.

Well, when all was said and done:I was left very hopeful on the actual day of filming. This story would air on a reputable station and actually demonstrate the true story of FAS to the world!! More awareness would lead to less ignorance in the public and more research and effective treatment plans!!!

Not only that, with so few reports or facts posted on web –Dr. Ryalls promised he would be hooking me up with some contacts.  PLUS… with his help the producer said they want to help me by setting up and paying for those future tests and treatment !!!!

What a day it was! There was much accomplished, connections made. Most of all — there were all these promises of helping not only myself but a lot of other people with this rare disorder. So many hopes and promises;  What could be better?


As time went by my elation was replaced with disappointments. Broken promises lead to broken hearts.

To start with, Dr. Ryall’s NEVER sent me ANY FAS contacts he had promised (even after I resent requests via email). Nor has he done so on the Foreign Accent Syndrome – New Facebook Group page. There has been years of opportunity, but nothing but the disappointment of broken promises.

The additional medical help that they said they would hook me up with NEVER happened.

The film producer borrowed a few of our home-movie VHS tapes to transfer into usable format. It contained footage of  me and family before FAS voice change. So I looked forward to the processed digital file copies they promised when they sent back the VHS tapes back in a week or so. Although I received my precious tapes back, there were no other DVDs.

I NEVER did receive a copy of the story NOR has it ever run. Even if A&E didn’t “take up” the project… I still should have received a copy.

Originally I was told that although there was a lot of footage they’d send me DVDs or digital files for me personally.

This was all done in May 2010 (almost exactly 1 year after my onset) — it’s now twol years since the filming . . . two YEARS…. and NOTHING…not even a copy for myself.  🙁

“Hope deferred makes a heart sick” — Proverbs 13:12 (NASB)

~~~~~PURSUING WITH PASSION ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So, now you may better understand one more reason why I am so passionate about Foreign Accent Syndrome Awareness. <3    You can find a group page entitled “Foreign Accent Awareness” on FaceBook. I welcome you to join that group and post questions or links to information that you may have yourself. Here’s a direct link  Foreign Accent Syndrome Awareness.

We cannot depend on others to help us when Foreign Accent Syndrome is already so rare that not many people (let alone doctors) have ever heard of it.  However, by sharing what we know and being available to do whatever we can, we can;  increase awareness, encourage research,  foster compassion and understanding. This will be making an impact! “ACTION” !