Pursuing your dream career in speech-language pathology
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?
In general, however, the bulk of an SLPs' work falls into one of two main categories, as detailed below:
- 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."
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.
- 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
- 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?
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
- 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.