Also known as Speech and language therapy.
Speech language pathology is one of the allied health fields. Speech language pathologists assess, diagnose, and treat disorders in the areas of speech, language, feeding and swallowing, and to a lesser extent hearing and literacy. SLPs work with people of all ages and across many settings, including the hospital, the schools, nursing homes, and private clinics.
Speech language pathologists may work with children with language delays, cognitive problems, lisps, or who stutter; adults with traumatic brain injury, damage from strokes, and problems resulting from surgery or feeding tubes; geriatric populations with dementia, Parkinson's disease, and choking problems; and many many other individuals with many and diverse issues. The odds are that you will see an SLP at some point in your life.
Scope of Practice of Speech Language Pathology
This category probably includes the best-known activities of SLPs. This includes working on articulation
(as in childhood apraxia of speech
, and dyspraxia
(as in stuttering
(in cases of vocal nodules
, vocal fry
, various types of dysphonia
, and the aftereffects of laryngeal surgery
), and issues with intonation
, and intensity
, of speech.
Language: This includes all the mental activities that underlie the physical movements of speech, and any non-speech aspects of communication. Phonology (phonological disorders are speech sound errors resulting from the misapplication of the rules governing the ordering and use of sounds), morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics (the social usage of language), receptive and expressive language skills, and non-verbal communication skills (kinesics, facial expressions, and gestures). SLPs are also usually the primary person involved in researching, recommending, and training individuals in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems to help them communicate in the absence of speech.
Swallowing and Feeding: These problems are managed by SLPs because patients with swallowing disorders are often already on our caseload, as swallowing disorders are caused by motor problems in the mouth and larynx which also affect speech. On top of this, there are few other professionals who will provide therapy for swallowing disorders, although occupational therapists do therapy in the area of feeding. Swallowing problems may be the result of muscle weakness, nerve damage, motor planning problems, or damage to the structures of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx.
Audiology: SLPs are not audiologists. However, hearing is a necessary part of language and communication, so both audiologists and SLPs are governed by the same professional organization in America, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). SLPs are very active in the school system, while audiologists are not, so SLPs are generally the ones to do hearing screenings in the schools, and are qualified to help manage upkeep with hearing aids, FM systems, and the like. SLPs are also very much involved in auditory rehabilitation, including the use of speechreading, American Sign Language, cued speech, and other adaptations to hearing loss or deafness.
Literacy: Reading and writing obviously involve language skills, and as an SLP has to work on semantics, syntax/grammar, pragmatics, narrative skills, memory, and retrieval skills in language therapy, the SLP is often called upon to develop these same skills in relation to literacy. SLPs are also likely to work on phonological awareness skills in pre-literate children. This area of speech language pathology and therapy is less well defined than the other areas. Teachers, tutors, and parents are qualified and encouraged to work on literacy skills with children, and generally problems in these areas are left to them. However, when there is clearly an underlying cognitive issue hampering literacy, it may be appropriate to call in an SLP. SLPs also frequently work with individuals who have lost literacy skills due to a TBI or stroke as part of their overall rehabilitation plan. Because SLPs are working on related skills in many patients (children and adult), literacy skills are often worked into sessions even if they are not a primary goal for that client.