By Danielle Owen
Each May, the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), and speech-language pathologists around the country, celebrate Better Speech and Hearing Month. This month-long event works to provide the public with information regarding communication skills and the specialists who treat them.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained professionals who educate and work with those who have speech, language, social communication, self-management, and behavior challenges. SLPs are sometimes also called Speech Therapists or Speech Teachers and their services include prevention, evaluation, identification, treatment, and rehabilitation of speech, language, swallowing, voice, cognition, and pragmatic/social skill disorders.
SLPs must complete their master’s or doctoral degree in Speech-Language Pathology or Communication Sciences and Disorders. They must also earn the American Speech and Hearing Association’s Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), and be licensed by the state board of examiners in Speech-Language Pathology.
SLPs are trained to work with people who have difficulties, delays, or disorders in the following areas:
- Articulation (speech sounds) is the area most of us think about when we think of a speech therapist. Articulation refers to difficulties saying specific sounds (i.e. /r/ or /s/) or it could be the placement of a sound (i.e. all the final sounds on a word are deleted or altered).
- Language (receptive/comprehension and expressive/verbal output) includes the way we use our words. It includes the word order or grammar, also known as syntax. It includes being able to identify the meaning of words and vocabulary, sometimes referred to as semantics. It includes phonology, which is the relationship between sounds and language. Literacy and associations made between reading, writing, and spelling may also fall under the category of language.
- Social language/pragmatics/social skills refers to a person’s ability to interact appropriately with others. This involves knowing how to and being able to ask for help, asking peers to play with you, appropriately gaining attention, making eye contact, as well as more complex things like understanding that other people have thoughts that are different from your own, reading social cues, and being able to form relationships and connect to others.
- Fluency (stuttering/stammering) can occur alongside other disorders or it can occur by itself. Stuttering occurs when the pattern of breathing is disrupted when a person is speaking. Stuttering occurs when the flow of speech is interrupted by prolongations, repetitions, or stoppages of sounds and syllables.
- Alternative and Augmentative Communication (also known as Assistive Technology or Communication Devices) is used to compensate for or assist one with communicating. There are many different programs and device that can be tailored to the individual who uses them to help them communicate or to enhance their communication. Assistive Technology can be high tech (iPads, speaking devices) or low tech (visual schedules, check off lists).
- Voice disorders often occur when there is a structural difference occurring in a person’s vocal tract. A structural difference could be caused by a vocal cord nodule (bump on the vocal cords) or paralysis. Voice disorders can also be caused by psychological issues, damage caused by surgery, neurological disorders, and even stress.
- Aphasia (an acquired communication disorder occurring as a result of a stroke or other brain injury) is diagnosed in one of three types. Broca’s aphasia occurs when a person mentally knows what they want to say but the connection from their brain to their articulators ( tongue, teeth, lips) is not working and they are unable to say the word. Wernicke’s aphasia occurs when a person has no trouble producing words but the connection to their brain is not working so they are not aware of what they are saying. Global aphasia occurs when both of these occur together.
- Motor speech disorders occur when the motor movements you use to communicate are impaired. This is caused when there is difficulty coordinating the tongue, lips, teeth with the brain signals that tell them what to do. This is often referred to as childhood apraxia of speech, and dysarthria/slurred speech.
- Swallowing/feeding disorders can happen as a result of a birth defect or injury to the brain or body parts associated with swallowing (from the tongue all the way down to the stomach).
- Cognition most commonly refers to the ability to use executive functioning which includes attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving, organization, and flexibility.
You can find SLPs in many different settings including schools, private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and public health agencies. In addition to these more common settings, you will find SLPs in universities, state and federal government agencies, health departments, and research laboratories. Some SLPs specialize in working with children, some with adults.
If you have questions or concerns related to your child’s communication skills, please talk to your child’s teacher, principal or contact the student services department at 503-261-4243.