Speech-Language Pathologist: Your Speech Disorder & Therapy Expert
What is a speech-language pathologist?
A speech-language pathologist is a healthcare provider who specializes in evaluating and treating people of all ages with problems speaking, communicating or swallowing. Speech-language pathologists help people increase or maintain speech or swallowing skills or adapt to permanent disability in these areas. Speech language pathologists work in many settings, including schools, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, home care, and long-term care facilities.
A speech-language pathologist typically:
Reviews and evaluates a patient’s medical history and its impact on speech and language and daily functioning
Assesses and documents speech, communication and swallowing problems in children and adults
Educates patients and families about swallowing and communication disorders, how to cope with and address them, and behavior patterns that impede communication and treatment
Uses techniques, exercises and other interventions to help patients make sounds and improve swallowing, voice, and written and oral language skills
Teaches alternative communication methods, such as sign language, physical exercises, and other treatment techniques
Works closely with a patient’s entire medical team as well as with parents, teachers, special educators, and other school professionals
A speech-language pathologist may also be known as a SLP or a speech therapist.
Who should see a speech-language pathologist?
Most people will see a speech-language pathologist when their doctor diagnoses a disease, injury, disorder or condition that affects or limits the ability to speak and communicate or to swallow safely and effectively. Conditions that can benefit from speech-language pathology include stroke, learning disabilities, stuttering, and hearing loss.
When should you see a speech-language pathologist?
You should consider seeing a speech-language pathologist if you or your child has any of these symptoms or conditions:
Abnormalities or birth defects of the tongue, palate, jaw, teeth, throat or mouth
Difficulties with learning or communicating learned information
Difficulty speaking, pronouncing words correctly, or stuttering
Prematurity or delayed speech development
Problems with voice, such as an unusually harsh voice or high pitch
You may also consider seeing a speech-language pathologist under the following situations:
You or your child has a heavy accent that makes communication difficult.
You or your child is having difficulty learning a second language.
You or your child has a tracheostomy.
What does a speech-language pathologist treat?
A speech-language pathologist provides exercise and other therapies for conditions and diseases that affect normal speaking, communicating or swallowing including:
Brain, nerve, and spinal cord conditions including cerebral palsy, dementia, stroke, Tourette syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain and spinal cord injury
Congenital (present at birth) conditions or disorders including Down syndrome, cleft lip and palate, and other abnormalities or birth defects of the tongue, palate, jaw, throat or mouth
Hearing loss including partial hearing loss and deafness
Language disorders including problems with expressing, understanding or processing language
Speech disorders including stuttering and difficulties with voice pitch, volume, or pronouncing sounds or words
What does a speech-language pathologist test?
A speech-language pathologist performs a wide variety of tests that measure, evaluate and record speech, communication and swallowing problems including:
Articulation (making individual sounds) and phonology (organizing sounds or making patterns of sounds) assessments
Autism spectrum disorders assessments
Cognitive communication (thinking processes and language skills) assessments
Developmental scales and algorithms
Fluency (smoothness of speech) and stuttering evaluations
Speech and language of culturally and linguistically diverse populations
Spoken language tests
Swallowing and oral-motor assessments
Written language assessments
What procedures and treatments does a speech-language pathologist do?
A speech-language pathologist can order or perform various procedures and treatments including:
Alternative forms of communication, such as sign language, manual signs, and gestures
Auditory training for children with cochlear implants and hearing aids
Hearing amplification and hearing aid devices
Identifying and intervening in behaviors and environments that negatively affect communication and swallowing
Prosthetic and adaptive devices for communication and swallowing
Speech-generating devices, manual communication boards, and picture schedules
Speech reading and lip reading
Strategies and interventions to maintain and improve personal and professional communication effectiveness
Strategies and interventions to maintain and improve professional voices
Transgender voice communication enhancement
Speech-language pathologist training and certification
Most states license and regulate speech-language pathologists, but qualifications vary somewhat from state to state. In general, a speech-language pathologist has:
Graduated with a master’s degree or a doctoral degree from a speech-language pathology program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Completed postgraduate, supervised professional experience
Passed a national exam
A speech-language pathologist may practice without becoming certified in the specialty. However, certification is one element in establishing a speech-language pathologist’s level of competence. The Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential is offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Participation in professional development and continuing education is required to maintain CCC-SLP certification, and most states require participation in continuing education activities in order to maintain licensure.
Speech-language pathologists treat some of the same conditions as audiologists, who specialize in hearing loss and hearing aids.
Find a speech-language pathologist near you and research his or her ratings and adherence to nationally recognized quality standards of care.