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What Do Speech-Language Pathologists Do?



When children come to our Rite Care Centers, they interact with a speech-language pathologist. These speech-language pathologists will be the guide on their path to treating and overcoming their speech, language, and literacy impairments.


But what does a speech-language pathologist do? In this article, we will go over their duties, licensing qualifications, and diagnoses and therapies they specialize in.


What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?


A speech-language pathologist (SLP), also known as a speech therapist, is a licensed professional specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of communication problems. SLPs work with people of all ages, from babies to the elderly.


Since they are responsible for many different types of people and diagnoses, SLPs must have the ability to work in a variety of situations. They must be caring, compassionate, patient, resourceful, and able to create treatment plans that meet the needs of unique diagnoses. After all, each child is different and will need treatment specially tailored to their needs.


To do this, the SLP must be able to listen well to the patient and interpret their behavior. This is not an easy task since most patients are struggling to communicate.


Some SLPs have speech-language pathology assistants to help them with the heavy workload that often comes with this kind of career. Additionally, they will work closely with other therapists as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a unified, targeted treatment plan. This includes other disciplines like nursing, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and activity directors.


WHERE DO SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGISTS WORK?


SLPs work in:


  • Private practices

  • Clinics

  • Physicians' offices

  • Hospitals

  • Schools

  • Colleges

  • Universities

  • Rehabilitation centers

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Residential healthcare facilities

  • Rite Care Centers!


Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 40% of SLPs work for state, local, or private educational facilities. Then, 24% work in physical, speech, auditory, or occupational therapists’ offices. Most are full-time workers, though part-time is also common.


A speech-language pathologist's duties may vary depending on the setting they work in. Educational settings are the most common for SLPs. Those that work in schools have the objective of identifying disorders early. The aim is to hopefully implement preventative therapies that will lessen the impact of any communication issues on the children’s lives.


If the SLP works in a medical setting, he or she will be focusing on introducing exercises that target fluency problems, help rehabilitate motor or cognitive functions, or assist the patient with finding new ways to communicate.


Speech-language pathologists are not only hands-on. They also have to keep up with administrative work in order to comply with state, local, and federal standards. When they are not working with patients, they are writing reports, filling out progress logs, or doing research.


There are some SLPs that like to be more behind the scenes by helping shape the curriculum of speech-language pathology. They focus on collecting data, designing large-scale treatment therapies, or advocating for educational reform.


QUALIFICATIONS OF A SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST


For SLPs to work with children and adults in need, they must complete a rigorous education to obtain official certification. To become a speech therapist, one must have received the following education:


  • Obtain a high school diploma or GED


  • Complete a Bachelor’s degree in a Communication Sciences undergraduate degree program or a related field of study


  • Complete coursework for a specialized graduate program, like a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. The graduate school should be accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology


  • Complete a clinical fellowship year (CFY) which typically lasts 36 weeks at a minimum of 35 hours a week. In order to practice during the CFY, the SLP must have a temporary state license for speech pathology



  • Must pass the Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology to earn the state licensure. However, there may be other requirements, depending on the state.




What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?


While the duties of speech-language pathologists vary widely, there are three main overarching duties they are in charge of: evaluating, diagnosing, and providing treatment for their clients. Let’s explore each of these in detail.


EVALUATE:


Most patients will first need to be evaluated by the SLP. The evaluation will be primarily focused on the person’s communication or swallowing issues. It is best to see a speech-language pathologist when there is:


  • Trouble communicating after illness or injury: Whether it be something like a stroke, a neurodegenerative disease, or a traumatic brain injury, there may have been damage done to the parts responsible for speech and language. This can cause the person to be unable to express wants and needs, have difficulty communicating in relationships, have difficulty learning in school, struggle with work, or be unable to complete daily tasks.


  • Trouble eating after illness or injury: Some illnesses and injuries can cause loss of motor function in the muscles that help us eat. The patient may be at risk of accidentally inhaling food particles, which could lead to choking.


  • Trouble feeding babies and toddlers: Young children with swallowing disorders will show signs of fussy mealtimes, congestion after eating, vomiting after eating, gagging while eating, or aversion to some textures or temperatures of food.


  • A developmental delay in speech: If a child is not reaching the speech and language milestones and falling behind in communication skills, he or she may have a developmental delay. After seeing a pediatrician, the child will be referred to an SLP to evaluate the issue. The earlier the delay is realized, the quicker the child can get into therapy to improve the underlying speech or language disorder.

DIAGNOSE:


Next, the SLP will detect and diagnose the suspected problem and come up with a treatment plan. He or she will carry out that plan through sustained therapy sessions over time while tracking the progress the patient makes.


SLPs are familiar with and can diagnose the following problems:


  • Speech sound disorders: Also known as articulation or phonological disorders, these kinds of speech disorders involve difficulty with perception, motor production, or phonological representation of speech sounds and speech segments. Some examples include apraxia of speech, cleft palate, and dysarthria.


  • Language disorders: Disorders that include difficulty getting meaning across through speech, writing, or even gestures. There are some disorders in which a child has difficulty with what is heard or read (receptive language disorder) or has difficulty getting across what he or she is thinking (expressive language disorder). The child may also have a mix of both (mixed receptive-expressive language disorder).


Another language disorder, aphasia, often occurs as a result of a stroke and damages a part of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension.


  • Literacy problems: Children who suffer from speech and language disorders also struggle with reading, writing, and spelling. This can include learning disabilities like dyslexia and hyperlexia.


  • Fluency disorders: When a patient has trouble with the flow of their speech, it is thought to be a fluency disorder. This includes stuttering where the child may repeat sounds like d-d-d-doll, pause a lot, or overly rely on “um” or “uh”.


  • Social communication issues: There are unwritten social rules governing our society that are taught to us by our family, friends, and community. These rules include things like taking turns, how close to stand to someone when in conversation, and how to talk to different people. However, some children and adults don’t learn these rules and will often have trouble fitting in socially. Notably, those with autism spectrum disorder struggle with this issue.


  • Voice disorders: People whose voice quality, pitch, and loudness differ or are inappropriate for an individual’s age, gender, cultural background, or geographic location are said to have a voice disorder. They may sound hoarse or nasally, easily lose their voice, talk at a high volume, or are unable to make sounds. These can result from structural, neurogenic, or functional issues.


  • Hearing impairment: Both children and adults suffer from hearing loss, which will have a huge effect on their communication. Although SLPs do not specialize in audiology, they can work with an audiologist to determine the level of hearing the child is capable of, then provide treatment to the child. Those with severe or profound hearing loss need to be exposed to other forms of language, such as sign language, so they do not lose the ability to learn language.


  • Swallowing disorders: These disorders involve difficulty swallowing food or liquid. This can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss, and other very serious health issues. Dysphagia


  • Cognitive-communication disorders: Those with these kinds of disorders typically suffered an injury to the brain from stroke, dementia, or head trauma. As a result, their memory, attention, reasoning, and organizational skills were affected. They may also have trouble speaking, listening, writing, or reading.


PROVIDE TREATMENT:


Speech pathologists are trained in a variety of therapies targeting a variety of disorders. They use their well-honed problem-solving skills to design treatment plans specially tailored to each patient’s unique needs.


These therapies may include some of the following activities:


  • Boosting kids’ phonological awareness by focusing on rhyming and identifying words’ beginning sounds

  • Teaching children how to express more complex ideas by joining words like “and”, “but”, or “because”

  • Teaching kids to understand inferences in text

  • Interacting with children through talking and playing

  • Using books, pictures, or other objects to help stimulate language development

  • Teaching patients to speak clearly

  • Modeling how to make certain sounds and syllables through age-appropriate play

  • Teaching and overseeing exercises in which the patient strengthens the muscles that are used for speaking and/or swallowing

  • Helping the patient learn to say and/or understand more words. The SLP may act them out, use them to tell stories, or play vocabulary games

  • Helping patients improve their sentence structure to provide more clarity in communication

  • Providing aided and unaided communication methods through augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems for those patients with severe language problems

  • Teaching patients and their families or caregivers strategies on how to best deal with the patient’s condition at home

  • Providing aural rehabilitation for those patients with hearing loss

  • Using problem-solving, organization, and memory games to help improve cognitive communication

  • Using conversational tactics to teach social communication. This may involve learning to pay attention to the other person’s tone of voice, body language, and emotions

  • Teaching breathing exercises for better resonance

  • Teaching exercises to help strengthen oral muscles

  • Introducing the patient to speech therapy apps

  • Introducing the patient to language development games and toys like flashcards and flip cards

  • Giving homework in speech therapy workbooks


Our SLPs Make a Difference in Children’s Lives


Through our Rite Care Centers, your donations fund the work of many gifted speech-language pathologists all over California. These SLPs have the credentials, experience, and knowledge to make a difference in children’s lives.


Additionally, your generous donations help fund SLPs in training through university partnerships and scholarships. And the money also goes toward our private partnerships with speech-language pathologist practices to help even more children in need.


All of the money donated ends up giving struggling children the resources and tools necessary in order to overcome their speech, language, and literacy impairments.


SLPs Evaluate, Diagnose, and Treat


Children coming to speech therapy are often shy and uncertain of what is in store for them. But with the help of a well-educated and gifted speech-language pathologist, they soon discover the path to better communication. And thus, better lives.


SLPs go through a rigorous Bachelor’s and Master’s education and clinical fellowship before being awarded their certification. Once certified, speech-language pathologists work in education or medical facilities to evaluate, diagnose, and treat their patients. Patients struggle with a variety of impairments, including speech sound disorders, language disorders, literacy problems, fluency disorders, and more.


Depending on the disorder, speech therapy can last a few sessions, a few months, or even a few years. And since these are some of the most important formative years in a child’s life, the time is best spent with an educated, experienced SLP in a well-funded program.




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