Speech-Language Pathologists

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What do Speech-Language Pathologists do?

A speech-language pathologist assesses and provides treatment for all speech and language related delays and disorders. These delays and or disorders would include speech articulation issues, expressive and receptive language difficulties, Autism Spectrum Disorder for pragmatic language issues, Oral/motor issues such as cleft palate, tongue thrust issues, or any oral physical disabilities related to speaking, use of augmentative devices for non-verbal issues such as occurs with Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. This work also includes deaf/hard of hearing issues and speech needs, brain-injured individuals and language/cognitive therapy, bilingual/multilingual individuals with language or articulation issues, stuttering issues, neurological conditions and burn victims in a medical setting requiring assistance with language, and swallowing issues in premature babies, in children or adults due to neurological events affecting eating and drinking. Speech-language pathologists work with voice or vocal cord issues in a medical setting, such as for Parkinson’s patients, or for professional singers. They also work with memory/language issues as related to Alzheimer’s disease, and with accent reduction for individuals who have the desire to lose or reduce an accent.

Speech-Language pathologists are also frequently called speech therapists and work in a variety of settings depending on the path they chose to specialize in during graduate school studies and during their 9-month fellowship. However, the training is comprehensive as the clinician studies each area of practice. In a school setting, the therapists will assess and work primarily with children who exhibit articulation, language, and communication issues. This work may include close communication with a learning specialist, school psychologist, and occupational or physical therapist as a team. Some speech-language therapists are also bilingual and assess and treat in more than one language. In a clinic or private setting, the same assessments and treatments may occur; however, the therapist may specialize in a certain area, such as stuttering therapy or teaching how to use augmentative devices.

Some SLPs may run groups for pragmatic language therapy and social language groups for children on the Autism Spectrum. Clinicians might work alone or with other speech therapists. You will frequently find speech therapists in an Ear nose and throat clinic (ENT) as they work closely with all head/neck related diseases.

In an inpatient hospital setting, medically fragile patients who suffered neurological events such as a stroke or car accident or other medical incident will need support. This setting provides the opportunity for the speech-language therapist to assess and treat language issues, swallowing issues, and any communication needs issues. In this setting, the medical team, such as a neurologist, nurse, cardiologist, specialty physician, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist, and social worker will work closely with the speech therapist. The patient may be in acute care or in rehabilitation and may have the goal of leaving to return home or to an outpatient clinic. In an outpatient clinic, the therapist will treat for the same conditions. Home health is another setting in which the therapists will visit individuals in their home and will assess and treat a variety of diagnoses. 

A speech-language pathologist in private practice can diagnose and bill insurance companies by providing a diagnostic code. Your pediatrician might recommend a speech therapist if he or she has concerns about your child’s communication abilities and feels an assessment is necessary. You child’s dentist might notice a tongue thrust or speech issues and have you consult a speech therapist to determine appropriate steps to help solve a problem. If your child needs a communication device to speak or communicate, you will be referred to a speech therapist who specializes in this area. If your child is on the Autism Spectrum, a speech therapist might work closely with a psychologist to work on social language skills. If your child has had a mild traumatic brain injury, he might see a speech therapist to work on memory/language skills.

What do Speech-Language Pathologists not do?

Speech Pathologists do not treat behavior. They are not trained to diagnose autism, and they are not ABA therapists.

Can Speech-Language Pathologists diagnose?

Speech Pathologists can diagnose language disorders and can make referrals to other types of professionals who might be needed.

How are Speech-Language Pathologists trained?

A licensed speech-language pathologist, CCC-SLP, is a master’s level clinician who has graduated with an M.A. or M.S.  from a program in speech-language sciences, allied health sciences, or communication disorders. These programs are often two to three additional years beyond a bachelor’s degree. During graduate school, the student will have internships based in schools, clinics, or hospitals, depending on the specialty area being pursued. A graduate student can follow an academic path, medical path, or even pursue a doctoral degree if he or she wishes to do research or teach in the field at the university level. Once coursework and practical experience is completed, a clinician graduates and begins a 9-month fellowship prior to earning CCC’s, a Clinical Certificate of Competence. During this time, a clinician can work under supervision by another fully licensed speech-language pathologist. Once all supervised hours have been met, the American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) awards the clinician with the license.

For speech-language pathologists, each state has different requirements to obtain and maintain a license. Private practices require a certain level of maintenance to keep a license current by the state, and national licensure is renewed each year for all work settings. Most states require professional development before renewal of licensure, and ASHA, that is, national renewal also requires a certain amount of professional development.

How can I find a Speech-Language Pathologists?

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) has a national database of speech therapists in all settings. Your child’s school will usually have a speech therapist and can refer you to other someone outside of the school setting. Your insurance company will have a list of names if this therapy is a covered benefit. Pediatricians and dentists have a list of reputable therapists. Major hospitals such as Children’s hospital will have clinics with therapists, and home health agencies will also have therapists.

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