What is a Speech Pathologist?
The practice of speech-language pathology includes prevention, diagnosis, habilitation, and rehabilitation of communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive disorders; elective modification of communication behaviors; and enhancement of communication. This includes services that address the dimensions of body structure and function, activity, and/or participation as proposed by the World Health Organization model.
Speech-language pathology is the study of disorders that affect a person's speech, language, cognition, voice disorders and swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) address people's speech production, vocal production, swallowing difficulties and language needs through speech therapy in a variety of different environments including schools, hospitals, and through private practice. Speech pathologists also carry out rehabilitation or corrective treatment of physical and/or cognitive deficits/disorders resulting from difficulty with communication and/or swallowing.
Scope of Practice
The practice of speech-language pathology involves:
- Providing prevention, screening, consultation, assessment and diagnosis, treatment, intervention, management, counseling, and follow-up services for disorders of:
- speech (i.e., articulation, fluency, resonance, and voice including aeromechanical components of respiration);
- language (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic/social aspects of communication) including comprehension and expression in oral, written, graphic, and manual modalities; language processing; preliteracy and language-based literacy skills, including phonological awareness;
- swallowing or other upper aerodigestive functions such as infant feeding and aeromechanical events (evaluation of esophageal function is for the purpose of referral to medical professionals);
- cognitive aspects of communication (e.g., attention, memory, problem solving, executive functions).
- sensory awareness related to communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.
- Establishing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) techniques and strategies including developing, selecting, and prescribing of such systems and devices (e.g., speech generating devices.)
- Providing services to individuals with hearing loss and their families/caregivers (e.g.,auditory training; speechreading; speech and language intervention secondary to hearing loss; visual inspection and listening checks of amplification devices for the purpose of troubleshooting, including verification of appropriate battery voltage).
- Screening hearing of individuals who can participate in conventional pure-tone air conduction methods, as well as screening for middle ear pathology through screening tympanometry for the purpose of referral of individuals for further evaluation and management.
- Using instrumentation (e.g., videofluoroscopy, EMG, nasendoscopy, stroboscopy, computer technology) to observe, collect data, and measure parameters of communication and swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions in accordance with the principles of evidence-based practice.
- Selecting, fitting, and establishing effective use of prosthetic/adaptive devices for communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions (e.g., tracheoesophageal prostheses, speaking valves, electrolarynges). This does not include sensory devices used by individuals with hearing loss or other auditory perceptual deficits.
- Collaborating in the assessment of central auditory processing disorders and providing intervention where there is evidence of speech, language, and/or other cognitivecommunication disorders.
- Educating and counseling individuals, families, co-workers, educators, and other persons in the community regarding acceptance, adaptation, and decision making about communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive concerns.
- Advocating for individuals through community awareness, education, and training programs to promote and facilitate access to full participation in communication, including the elimination of societal barriers.
- Collaborating with and providing referrals and information to audiologists, educators, and health professionals as individual needs dictate.
- Addressing behaviors (e.g., perseverative or disruptive actions) and environments (e.g., seating, positioning for swallowing safety or attention, communication opportunities) that affect communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.
- Providing services to modify or enhance communication performance (e.g., accent modification, transgendered voice, care and improvement of the professional voice, personal/ professional communication effectiveness).
- Recognizing the need to provide and appropriately accommodate diagnostic and treatment services to individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and adjust treatment and assessment services accordingly.
Speech-language pathologists serve individuals, families, groups, and the general public through a broad range of professional activities. They:
- Identify, define, and diagnose disorders of human communication and swallowing and assist in localization and diagnosis of diseases and conditions.
- Provide direct services using a variety of service delivery models to treat and/or address communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive concerns.
- Conduct research related to communication sciences and disorders, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.
- Educate, supervise, and mentor future speech-language pathologists.
- Serve as case managers and service delivery coordinators.
- Administer and manage clinical and academic programs.
- Educate and provide in-service training to families, caregivers, and other professionals.
- Participate in outcomes measurement activities and use data to guide clinical decision making and determine the effectiveness of services provided in accordance with the principles of evidence-based practice.
- Train, supervise, and manage speechlanguage pathology assistants and other support personnel.
- Promote healthy lifestyle practices for the prevention of communication, hearing, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive disorders.
Speech and language pathologists work with a diverse population of individuals. Some of them might not even have an impairment, for example the family of a person who has had a stroke. This is a list of some of the patients/clients a speech pathologist might work with.
- Babies with feeding and swallowing difficulties
- Children with mild, moderate or severe:
- learning difficulties
- physical disabilities, language delay
- specific language impairment
- specific difficulties in producing sounds (including vocalic r and lisps) (articulation)
- hearing impairment
- cleft palate
- stuttering/stammering (dysfluency)
- autism/social interaction difficulties (pragmatics)
- voice disorders
- Adults with eating and swallowing and/or communication problems following
- Head Injury (Traumatic Brain Injury)
- Parkinson's Disease
- Motor Neuron Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Huntington's disease
- Cancer of the head, neck and throat (including laryngectomy)
- voice problems
- mental health issues
- Learning difficulties, physical disabilities
- Stammering (dysfluency)
- Hearing impairment
- Transsexual women seeking voice therapy
SLTs/SLPs work closely with others involved with the client, for example difficulties with eating and drinking may also involve an occupational therapist. Speech and language therapists also work closely with parents and caregivers and other professionals, such as teachers, nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists and doctors.
In some countries and states SLPs are registered by bodies that govern the practice and delivery of speech pathology services. This may vary from country to country and state to state within countries. These are some national speech pathology professional bodies.