Speech-Language Pathologist: Your Speech Disorder & Therapy Expert

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Hearing loss

  • 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

  • Developmental disabilities including learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and speech delays

  • 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

  • Voice evaluations

  • 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: 

  • Accent modification

  • 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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Directory of Speech-Language Pathology Assessment Instruments. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/assessments.aspx

  2. Fact Sheet for Speech-Language Pathology. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/careers/professions/slp/

  3. How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-4

  4. Speech-Language Pathologists. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Speech-language-pathologists.htm

  5. Speech-Language Therapy. Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/speech_therapy.html.