A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is as known as a speech therapist (ST). STs are healthcare professionals who help individuals of all ages - from infants to seniors - gain, regain, or maintain the ability to communicate and swallow. Speech therapy may seem basic, but this type of care can fall along a range of complexity and involve more than addressing a stutter, lisp, or making an ‘r’ correctly – speech therapy helps people who have problems with communication, language, eating, and swallowing too.
The speech-language pathologist (SLP), sometimes referred to as a ‘speech therapist,’ assesses and treats a number of problems associated with:
Speech – articulation (the way we produce the sounds that make up spoken words)
Language – the ability to express one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs; the ability to understand spoken and written language; the ability to use language to interact with others socially (pragmatics)
Cognition – memory, attention, and ability to solve problems
Voice – pitch, tone, quality, intensity, and ability to sustain vocalizations
Fluency – often called stuttering (how we link our spoken words together with or without breaks, pauses, or repetitions; can also address the speed of speech)
Swallowing – dysphagia (how we eat and swallow our food and drinks)
These problems can be present in the following situations (not a comprehensive list):
Post-Traumatic Brain Injury
Developmental (present at birth sometimes without known cause)
Natural Aging Process
What You and Your Loved One Can Expect with Speech Therapy
In most situations, you will need a referral from your family member’s primary care physician (PCP) for an evaluation of their skills in the areas listed above. At your initial evaluation, the speech-language pathologist (SLP) will obtain background information including a medical, developmental, and academic history (as appropriate given age), and obtain an understanding of your and/or the patient’s concerns. Based on this information your SLP will administer a formal or informal assessment with your loved one.
Formal assessments have the benefit of providing standardized scores based on research-driven data. Non-standardized testing does not provide standardized scores but can be interpreted based on criterion-referenced data and skilled clinical judgment. Both provide information that is used to help determine areas of need. After the formal and non-standardized assessments are administered, the SLP will discuss the results and create a Plan of Care including long-term and short-term goals, suggested interventions, and frequency of treatment. You, as the caregiver, and the patient will be involved in creating this Plan of Care. Long-term goals are the ‘big’ overall goals for the therapy to address. Short-term goals are ‘how’ the long-term goals will be achieved. Your speech therapist will be available for questions from you at any point during this process.
Once the Plan of Care (POC) is established and approved by the PCP, therapy can begin. There is a wide variety of types of therapy dependent on skills that need to be addressed. For children, most speech/language and feeding therapy is play-based and should aim to include you as the caregiver actively. Each session will target goals directly from the POC. Play activities may often look like things you already do in your home during playtime; your speech therapist will explain which goals these play activities address. The therapist may also incorporate goals into literacy activities.
For adults, each therapy session will include your speech therapist discussing your current skills and goals. Therapy activities will be functional to ensure skills are improved so that activities of daily living and quality of life are improved.
Your SLP will provide suggestions for activities that you and your family can do at home to reinforce the skills the patient is learning in therapy. Your therapist is only with your family for a short period of time each week; participating in carryover activities at home can drastically improve therapy outcomes.
It is often difficult to determine just how long speech therapy will need to continue. It depends on a variety of factors and the individual’s needs. While speech therapy provides the tools your loved one needs to improve impaired or delayed skills, it is not a “magic cure” and improvements can take weeks, months, and sometimes years.
For more information about speech therapy and speech therapy programs, contact About Kids Home Health Care, a community comprised of caring clinicians who are devoted to patients and their families, and to unparalleled services.