What Is Speech Therapy?

How Speech-Language Pathologists Provide Help for Children and Adults

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Speech therapy focuses on receptive language, or the ability to understand words spoken to you, and expressive language, or the ability to use words to express yourself. It also deals with the mechanics of producing words, such as articulation, pitch, fluency, and volume.

When children need speech therapy, it may involve pursuing milestones that have been delayed. Some children only need help with language, others have the most problems with the mechanics of speech, and some need help with multiple facets of speech, language, and swallowing.

 Adults may need speech therapy after a stroke or traumatic accident, stroke, brain injury, or surgery that changes their ability to use language or their ability to swallow. 

What Speech-Language Pathologists Do

The professional in charge of your child's speech therapy is called a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Older or less formal terms for these experts are speech therapist or speech teacher. The speech-language pathologist has earned a master's degree from an accredited speech and language program, completed a clinical fellowship, and a earned a certification to practice in the field. Many states also require licensure to practice in school districts. Speech assistants may be supervised by an SLP to perform some functions.

The SLP can perform testing to determine your child's needs and what approaches will work best. The SLP will work to find fun activities to strengthen your child in areas of weakness.

For mechanics, this might involve exercises to strengthen the tongue and lips, such as blowing on whistles or licking up Cheerios. For language, this might involve games to stimulate word retrieval, comprehension, or conversation.

Types of Speech Therapy Services for Children

.Common types of speech therapy services children need include:

  • Speech therapy for toddlers who are delayed in developing speech
  • Speech therapy for apraxia, the difficulty with producing certain sounds and syllables
  • Speech therapy for stuttering
  • Speech therapy for aphasia, which is difficulty with language expression and understanding due to brain injury
  • Therapy for difficulty with swallowing

Speech Therapy as Part of an IEP

Speech therapy may be provided by your child's school as a part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The speech therapist should be part of your child's IEP team, both for evaluating your child's speech and language abilities and deciding how therapy should be administered. This may be in a group or individually, in class or as a pull-out, once or twice a week or more. Make sure you understand everything about your child's speech evaluation and recommended therapy before signing an IEP, and ask questions at the start of the school year to monitor the service delivery.

You may also choose to get speech therapy outside of school. Some speech-language pathologists will come to your home for therapy sessions. Be sure to check with both the therapist's office and your insurance to find out what kind of speech therapy and how much of it is covered.

The therapist should be certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

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