Pursuing your dream career in speech-language pathology
Communication plays a crucial role in how we navigate and perceive the world. For millennia, we have relied on increasingly complex modes of communication to help us feel connected and safe. While digital communication is increasingly important these days, there is still no substitute for old-fashioned verbal interactions.
Find effective ways to communicate with others and help others communicate with the world around them. Central Michigan University offers a well-rounded speech language pathology program.
Unfortunately, these conversations are exceedingly difficult for some people. Various communication disorders stand in the way, making everything from articulation to phonology more complicated. Many people struggle to hear others speak or form the sounds necessary to be understood. These issues cause tremendous obstacles at school, in the workforce, and even emotionally.
Thankfully, there's hope for people with communication disorders — and those they love. Many look to speech-language pathologists (SLPs) for guidance. These professionals play a vital role in the lives of their patients, clients, and students. They work in schools, specialty clinics, and home health settings.
If you're interested in making a difference as a speech-language pathologist, it's crucial that you first understand what this field encompasses — and what it takes to prepare for a successful career.
What is speech-language pathology?
Speech-language pathology is a broad field that addresses individual challenges with speech, hearing, and swallowing. This clinical practice is often referred to as an allied health profession. A broad-based area of expertise, it encompasses everything from cognitive challenges to physical disorders and even family or community support.
What do speech-language pathologists do?
No two days look exactly alike for hardworking speech-language pathologists. These professionals draw on their communication expertise to assist a wide variety of clients. Their work is not limited to articulation concerns, as some people mistakenly believe. Instead, they address a broader scope of communication struggles, ranging from the mechanics of speech to language, cognitive, and even literary impairments.
In general, however, the bulk of an SLPs' work falls into one of two main categories, as detailed below:
Before patients can receive targeted treatments or recommendations, they must be evaluated and diagnosed. SLPs conduct in-depth assessments to better understand chief symptoms and communication challenges.
Comprehensive assessments typically include the following components identified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:
- SLPs ask numerous questions regarding medical history, education, cultural background, and socioeconomic status. They conduct interviews with the patients themselves, as well as their family members. SLPs also gather information from medical providers, teachers, and other experts.
- When determining the presence of apraxia, SLPs rely on oral-motor assessments to verify muscle weakness in key areas. These could include the lips, tongue, or jaw. Videofluoroscopy and endoscopy may provide additional insight.
- Behavioral observations can help SLPs determine how patients act in natural settings, as this may differ significantly from how they interact during SLP appointments.
- As ASHA explains, standardized tools are relied on to "compare individuals with their peers."
Diagnosis by SLPs is limited to oral and communication disorders. SLPs often do not have the authority to diagnose contributing conditions. They can, however, refer patients and help them take advantage of available services or treatments from other providers.
Another important caveat: the term assessment should not be confused with evaluation, which, while similar in many respects, is conducted for a separate purpose: determining the patient's initial eligibility for SLP services.
Meanwhile, assessment focuses on the various procedures that reveal the patient's "unique strengths and needs," as well as the interventions capable of meeting those needs.
Following the successful completion of evaluations and assessments, SLPs can deliver the most capable treatments to improve patients' communication skills and general well-being. These will vary dramatically from one situation to the next but often include:
- Encouraging patients or clients to imitate utterances first made by the SLP. This common strategy is typically referred to as integral stimulation.
- Multi-sensory cueing, such as displaying images of the mouth or creating nicknames to trigger the patient's memory.
- Backward or forward chaining, in which syllables are gradually added to words to help with articulation.
- Using biofeedback systems such as ultrasounds to assist those with swallowing disorders.
- Helping patients select the right Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) strategy, such as iPad apps or speech-generating devices.
- Collaborating with audiology professionals and occupational therapists to provide comprehensive assistance.
Treatment may also encompass family counseling. This allows parents and other family members to contribute to the patient or student's long-term progress.
Types of disorders treated by speech-language pathologists
A variety of disorders can prevent patients or students from communicating effectively, while others cause issues with swallowing or eating. Some of the most common concerns addressed by SLPs include:
- Apraxia: Classified as a neurological disorder, apraxia of speech occurs when there is a disconnect between instructions from the brain and movements made by the patient's body. Mild cases are sometimes referred to as dyspraxia.
- Aphasia: Often occurring in response to strokes or traumatic brain injuries, aphasia involves extensive damage to the parts of the brain that control speech. This can make it difficult for patients to speak or understand what others say.
- Stuttering: Characterized by repeated words or syllables, stuttering is a common concern that disrupts the flow of speech. People who struggle with stuttering often suffer significant emotional distress.
- Dysphagia: While a variety of conditions can cause it, dysphagia typically involves struggles with swallowing. Sufferers may frequently cough or choke, with some also experiencing significant pain when trying to swallow.
Communication and swallowing disorders can also occur as a result of these illnesses or conditions:
- Cleft palate
- Cerebral palsy
- Parkinson's disease
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Down syndrome
- Rett syndrome
Why is early intervention so important for communication disorders?
Early intervention is crucial for promoting desired results on a long-term basis. While the disorders highlighted above can see improvements at any age, these boosts tend to be more significant when treatments occur early on. The reasoning is simple: the pace of language absorption is far faster in the first few years of life.
Most major brain structures reach maturity at a shockingly young age — typically, by the time a child reaches three years old. While interventions after that time can still be effective, their impact won't come close to matching that of services targeted at toddlers. As such, SLPs, physicians, and many other professionals strongly recommend early diagnosis and intervention, even when parents are uncertain whether a problem exists.
Not only does the "wait it out" method limit long-term results, but this can also amplify immediate frustration. Communication delays often lead to behavioral issues because children find it difficult to express their needs. The almost immediate improvements made possible through early intervention could limit acting out from frustrated children. This has a ripple effect both at home and in school.
Resources for parents and caregivers of children with communication disorders
While nothing replaces an official assessment with a highly trained SLP, parents of children with communication disorders can benefit from today's wealth of resources. These provide much-needed insight into symptoms, available interventions, and plenty of support for parents who feel alone. Feel free to check out these helpful resources.
- Emily Perry on YouTube: As a parent and SLP, Emily Perry is qualified to provide targeted advice on common communication concerns. Her YouTube videos shed light on everything from lisps to syllable reduction and even gentle parenting. Her main goal is to help parents foster communication and language growth in their children.
- ASHA Tips and Milestones: This free resource from ASHA and Read Aloud 15 MINUTES highlights important communication skills that babies and young children gain during their first few years of life. They also provide several targeted suggestions to promote language skills at all ages. While the toolkit identifies 'typical' skills that babies or children might have at certain ages, ASHA provides a clear caveat that children will and should develop at their own unique pace.
- Bright by Text: A helpful text messaging resource, Bright by Text provides short, actionable suggestions that can easily be incorporated into everyday routines or activities. This can begin at the prenatal stage and extend through age eight. To sign up, text BRIGHT to 274-448.
Make a difference as a speech-language pathologist
Do you envision a future in speech-language pathology? This can be a rewarding career path, but it requires a lot of training and even more passion.
The first step? Earning your Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology. We are pleased to provide this targeted program at Central Michigan University.
Our approach combines high-level classroom instruction with practicum opportunities that allow you to apply your recently gained SLP skills in various clinical settings, like our very own Speech-Language and Hearing Clinics. As an SLP student, you'll enjoy state-of-the-art facilities and insight from the industry's most respected professionals.
Take the next step toward your dream career: contact us today to learn more about our graduate SLP program.