Big Sky Aphasia Program (BSAP)

Mission and Principles


Mission of the Big Sky Aphasia Program

The mission of the Big Sky Aphasia Program (BSAP) at the University of Montana is to provide high-quality, cost-effective, research-driven speech and cognitive-linguistic therapy to individuals with aphasia and associated deficits resulting from stroke and traumatic brain injury, while serving as a clinical training facility for graduate student clinicians who attend the School of Speech, Language, Hearing, & Occupational Sciences in the College of Health at the University of Montana.

Program Principles & Goals

  • All individuals with aphasia can benefit from speech-language therapy, regardless of aphasia type, severity, or time post-onset. Aphasia services should take place across all phases of stroke recovery (acute, subacute, post-acute, chronic).
  • Speech-language therapy interventions must be grounded in current evidence of best practices and based upon principles of neurobiological recovery.
  • Treatment should be person-centered and individualized to incorporate patient values, interests, and skills.
  • Treatment should be holistic and target the impairment along with activity and participation restrictions according to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (WHO, 2001).
  • The patient should be defined as: the individual with aphasia and their family care partners.
  • Family care partners educational/informational counselling, communication strategy, training, and psychosocial support are vital components of effective aphasia therapy. Communication partner training (CPT) is an essential and evidence-based component of aphasia management.
  • Aphasia treatment should include a variety of service delivery modules including individual, group, and technology-based therapies.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder resulting from injury to the parts of the brain that control language (usually the left hemisphere of the brain). The most common cause of aphasia is stroke, but aphasia can also be the result of traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative disorders, brain tumors, infections, or exposure to toxins.

Aphasia may affect any or all of the four modalities of language: speaking, understanding, reading, and writing.  A person with aphasia may have difficulty with all aspects of language, or in some areas but not others. Each area of communication may be affected to different degrees. Aphasia does not impact intellect. That is, aphasia is a loss of language, not a loss of intelligence. Regardless of the severity of aphasia, or how long a person has had aphasia, communication improvement is always possible.

Each person with aphasia and their family care partners present with unique skills and needs. A person’s aphasia profile depends upon many factors, including what part of the brain was damaged and the severity of the injury.  In general, people with aphasia have non-fluent aphasia or fluent aphasia. The most common sub-types of aphasia are: Broca’s Aphasia, Wernicke’s Aphasia, Global Aphasia, and Anomic Aphasia. For more information about the specific types of aphasia, see the National Aphasia Association.

Who We Are

Cathy Off

Catherine A. Off, Ph.D., CCC-SLP -

Founder and Co-Director of the Big Sky Sphasia Program

Catherine Off is a Professor and Chair of the School of Speech, Language, Hearing, & Occupational Sciences in the College of Health at the University of Montana. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics at the University of California - Berkeley in 1996 and her Masters of Science in Communication Disorders and Sciences at the University of Wyoming in 1999. She worked as a speech-language pathologist at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Philadelphia, PA for two years in acute, sub-acute, and outpatient rehabilitation units as well as at the VAMC's nursing home. Catherine received her doctoral degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences, with emphasis on aphasia and word retrieval impairments in individuals recovering from stroke, from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2008. After completing her doctoral degree, Catherine joined the clinical faculty at California State University, Northridge as a lecturer and supervisor for the neurogenic communication disorders clinical services. Catherine's clinical and research interests include rehabilitation of communication disorders stemming from stroke, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her research investigates the effects of intensive therapy for individuals with aphasia and traumatic brain injury. Catherine is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and licensed in the states of Montana and California. She is an active member of the Academy of Neurogenic Communication Disorders and Sciences (ANCDS), the Montana Speech-Language-Hearing Association (MSHA), and is a member of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Service's Stroke Work Group.

Griffin, J.

Jenna R. Griffin, M.S., CCC-SLP -

Co-Director of the Big Sky Aphasia Program (BSAP)

Jenna Griffin is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Speech, Language, Hearing, & Occupational Sciences in the College of Health at the University of Montana and serves as co-director of the Big Sky Aphasia Program (BSAP). Jenna obtained her Bachelor of Arts in the department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Montana in 2012, and graduated from the Speech-Language Pathology graduate program at the University of Montana in 2014. Jenna completed a clinical fellowship at St. Vincent Healthcare in the stroke and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation center located in Billings, MT. Through this experience, Jenna gained additional knowledge that best allows her to incorporate evidence-based practice, individual client characteristics, and principles of neuroplasticity in a clinical setting. Jenna's areas of research interest include evidence-based practice for acquired neurologic disorders, education and counseling for persons with aphasia and their famiy care partners, and investigation of principles of neuroplasticity such as intensity and dosage for aphasia rehabilitation. She is a member of the Montana Speech-Language-Hearing Association (MSHA) and is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

The Community We Serve

We serve individuals, families, and care partners of individuals who have acquired neurogenic communication disorders including: cognitive-communication impairments, aphasia, acquired apraxia of speech, and dysarthria, stemming from stroke, traumatic brain injury, and/or other neurological disorders or diseases (e.g., Neurodegenerative diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, etc.). Our patients include students, veterans, and community members from across the state of Montana and across the country. Prospective patients must be medically stable; those wishing to participate in the intensive aphasia programs must have the cognitive and physical endurance to withstand the rigors of an intensive therapy program.

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