Speech and language therapy or pathology is a type of health care that addresses communication and swallowing disabilities and issues. Professionals in this field are highly-trained experts in working with both children and adults who struggle to speak, communicate, comprehend or use language, or eat and drink because of any number of conditions and disabilities.
The care that speech and language therapists provide is important in many ways. For children who cannot swallow easily, they help ease eating and drinking. For adults with impaired communication from illnesses or accidents, they can help restore speaking. And for kids with disabilities and speech difficulties, they can aid in making communication more effective and easier. Be sure to choose a therapist who is licensed and comes recommended by a doctor or previous patients.
What is Speech and Language Therapy?
Speech and language therapy, also sometimes referred to more simply as speech therapy or as speech and language pathology, is a type of therapy that helps patients of any age who struggle with communication, speaking, swallowing, eating, and drinking. Speech and language therapists or pathologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat people with communication, cognitive, voice, and swallowing disorders or conditions that affect communication, speaking, and swallowing.
A speech-language therapist is an allied health professional, skilled health care with specific training. These therapists have earned undergraduate degrees as well as advanced graduate degrees in speech and language pathology. They are licensed by the state they practice in and are often certified by professional organizations like the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Childhood Disorders Treated with Speech Therapy
There are many conditions that can be treated with speech and language therapy, including those that affect adults, children, or both. Many of these are more common in children, who can improve the ability to communicate or swallow. Some of the conditions that may lead a child to need speech and language therapy include:
- Articulation disorders, which cause a child to mispronounce words or sounds.
- Resonance and voice disorders that cause issues with pitch, quality, and volume.
- Fluency disorders, like stuttering.
- Expressive disorders, which cause a child to have difficulties with expressing or using language.
- Receptive disorders that make processing and understanding language difficult.
- Cognitive disorders that affect communication.
- Dysphagia, and other swallowing or feeding disorders that make eating and drinking difficult.
- Mental illnesses, behavioral disorders, and developmental disorders that interfere with the ability to communicate.
Speech pathologists guide these sessions with activities and exercises that are designed to help the patient meet their goals. They also evaluate patients on an ongoing basis to assess progress and then adjust the treatment as needed. Therapists work with parents and patients and teach them exercises they can use at home to further improve communication.
Speech Therapy for Adults
When speech and language therapists work with adults, it is often for rehabilitation or to improve the communication or swallowing symptoms caused by illnesses, accident, or progressive illnesses. For example, a stroke may leave someone with speech difficulties and therapy can help restore some or all of the ability to speak and communicate. Other illnesses and conditions that may require speech therapy include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, brain or throat cancer, and brain injuries.
Adults may also need speech therapy for voice and communication disorders that were not treated in childhood, like stuttering or expressive disorders that are not so severe as to make communication impossible. Mental illnesses, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders may also require treatment with speech and language therapy to improve communication.
What Happens in Speech Therapy Sessions?
Speech and language therapy sessions include a variety of elements and differ based on the needs of the individual patients. The first thing a pathologist does with a patient is a thorough evaluation to assess their needs and abilities. They also can make a diagnosis at this point, which can then lead to the development of goals and a treatment strategy. Elements of treatment vary depending on the patient, but may include:
- Teaching the patient how to make specific sounds.
- Using games and toys with children to help improve speech.
- Guiding patients to develop vocabulary and sentence structure.
- Using exercises to strengthen muscles used to swallow or speak.
- Working with patients and their families about how to work on goals at home and how to improve communication.
- Counseling patients with emotional or behavioral issues to help improve communication.
Where Speech and Language Therapy is Offered
Speech and language therapists work in many different settings. Because they often work with children, speech and language pathologists are often found in schools and pediatric units in hospitals, clinics, and medical centers. They also work in private practices, in community health clinics and programs, in prisons, in children’s homes, in nursing homes, and in speech and language clinics. They may work along with other health professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team that helps patients with a variety of strategies.
How to Get High Quality Speech and Language Care
To ensure that you or your child gets the best quality of care for speech or swallowing conditions and symptoms, it is important to take care when choosing a therapist. Getting a referral from your physician or pediatrician is a great place to start, but also be sure to check the qualifications of the therapist you choose. The therapist should be licensed and associated with a professional organization. You may also want to get references to determine if past patients were satisfied with the results. Look specifically for qualifications and references that are relevant to your or your child’s specific issues and goals.
Speech and language pathology is an important type of care. For people who struggle to communicate, functioning in school, at work, and in relationships with other people can be very challenging. These therapists are trained to help individuals communicate better and in doing so also improve their quality of life measures. Many patients needing speech therapy are children, but there are many adults who can benefit from this type of care too. If you are seeking care for communication or swallowing difficulties, select a qualified and skilled therapist to ensure you get the best possible treatment and outcomes.