What Does A Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Does your child have trouble understanding and speaking with others? Do they struggle to make speech sounds or even find it hard to learn how to read or write? If your answer to these questions is yes, you may want to know about speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and how they can help your child improve their speech and communication skills.

What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), also known as speech therapists, are health professionals who work with children to improve their speech and communication skills. They work in clinics, schools, and hospitals to diagnose and treat speech and language disorders such as articulation problems, stuttering, word finding, vocalization, swallowing, and inability to understand speech.

Typically, speech pathologists are part of a rehabilitation team that may include other professionals, such as audiologists and psychologists. They have multiple responsibilities that include;

  • Assessing the patient’s communication and swallowing abilities
  • Diagnosing the underlying causes of the speech-language problems
  • Developing personalized treatment plans 
  • Offering therapy and maintaining records of progress

What is the role of Speech-Language Pathologists? 

To put the role of SLPs in context, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that: 

  • By first grade, approximately 5% of children have noticeable speech disorders with unknown causes. Examples include stuttering, dysarthria, and speech sound disorders.
  • Roughly 8-9% of young children have speech sound disorders such as articulation and phonological disorders
  • Almost 1 in 12 children aged 3-17 in the U.S. have a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing
  • Children aged 3-6 have the highest voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorders at 11% compared to 9.3% for those aged 7-10, and 4.9% for those aged 11-17

What types of interventions do SLPs offer?

SLPs offer interventions to these problems by providing a wide range of therapies determined by the diagnosed disorder. These treatments may include;

  • Educating children and their families on ways of overcoming communication and swallowing disorders
  • Providing aural rehabilitation for children with hearing problems
  • Offering augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems to children with extreme expressive and language comprehension disorders
  • Helping children with expressive language disorders find the right words to express themselves
  • Help children increase the number of words they can say and understand
  • Engage children in exercises that strengthen their muscles needed to speak and swallow
  • Teach children how to communicate efficiently and clearly
  • Help children form speech sounds

What does Speech-Language Pathologist do?

SLPs provide therapies to children with multiple issues, including developmental delays, hearing problems, and communication and swallowing disorders. Examples of specific conditions SLPs diagnose and treat include;

1) Articulation disorders

These problems are evident when your child has trouble pronouncing certain words or when they use the wrong sounds. Some children substitute one sound for another, for example, pronouncing “wabbit” instead of “rabbit,” while others use indistinct speech.

2) Fluency disorders 

These challenges are related to your child’s inability to form sentences or words that flow. An example of fluency disorder is stuttering, where your child uses odd pauses, repeated words, or parts of words. It is recommendable for parents to seek help when a child aged 3.5 years and above shows noticeable fluency issues lasting more than six months.

3) Voice disorders

Voice difficulties occur when your child has an abnormal pitch. They can result from small growths on the vocal cords known as nodules or polyps. If your child speaks too loudly, softly, or with hoarseness, consider seeking help from a speech-language pathologist. 

5) Language disorders

Have you noticed that your child has difficulties finding the right words or speaking in complete sentences? Is the child speaking simpler and fewer sentences compared to their age mates? These could be signs of language disorders.   

Language disorders often occur when a child has trouble understanding or expressing themselves to others. Examples of these issues diagnosed and treated by SLPs include:

  • Pragmatics: these problems occur when a child has trouble understanding communication rules such as turn-taking or social cues.
  • Aphasia: this is a language disorder related to a child’s inability to speak or understand language due to brain damage caused by stroke or head trauma
  • Learning disabilities (LD): these are language problems associated with reading, spelling, and writing. Most children with LD have normal to above-average intelligence, and therefore, these language problems are not a measure of how intelligent your child is
  • Swallowing disorders

Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, occur when your child has problems with eating and swallowing.

Examples of signs include;

  • Choking or coughing during and after meals
  • Experiencing pain when swallowing
  • Frequent pneumonia 
  • Taking much longer than usual in the food passage
  • Food leaking from the child’s mouth 

It is critical to note that children grow and learn at their own pace. Therefore, some mistakes are not necessarily disorders. As a parent, you need to understand milestones to know what skills your child should have at a given age. This helps identify speech and language disorders on time and seek assistance from an SLP.

How to Become a Speech Language Pathologist

Education, training, and certification

Looking at the wide range of speech-language pathologists’ roles, you are probably wondering; what skills and expertise do these professionals have?

Well, let us look at the steps to becoming an SLP:

Step #1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

Aspiring SLP students must complete an undergraduate degree aligned with speech and language pathology. Examples of these degrees are the Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and the Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. 

Step #2 Complete the SLP Master’s Degree

After the undergraduate degree, aspiring SLPs enroll for the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) from an institution accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA).

The MS-SLP enables the graduating speech-language students to meet the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) certification requirements that include 400 hours of clinical experience (25 hours of guided clinical observation, often in a classroom setting, and 375 hours of direct client/patient contact).

Step #3 Complete post-graduate clinical fellowship

Although post-graduate clinical fellowship varies from state to state, the requirements must align with the ASHA guidelines for the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) credential. These requirements include;

  • Complete at least 1260 hours of clinical experience accrued over at least 36 weeks 
  • At least 80% of clinical experience should involve direct clinical contact with patients
  • The fellowship period should be overseen and mentored by an ASHA-certified SLP  

Step #4 Pass the Praxis Examination

Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers tests, which may include materials such as;

  • Foundations of speech-language pathology
  • Planning and implementing treatment plans
  • Etiology
  • Speech and language assessments and diagnoses 

Step #5 Obtain state licensure and ASHA certification

Upon completing the required education and training programs, the SLPs can apply for licensing and certifications from the state’s speech-language pathology and audiology board and ASHA.

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