What is Speech Language Pathology?

Speech Language Pathology is a field which deals with the normal and abnormal aspects of speech and language production namely phonation, producing sound; resonance; fluency; intonation, variance of pitch; and voice, including aeromechanical components of respiration. 

The components of language include: phonology, manipulating sound according to the rules of a language; morphology, understanding and using minimal units of meaning; syntax, constructing sentences by using languages' grammar rules; semantics, interpreting signs or symbols of communication to construct meaning; and pragmatics, social aspects of communication.

Who is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)?

The following are specifically the aspects covered by a Speech Language Pathologist during assessment and intervention services:

  • Cognitive aspects of communication (e.g., attention, memory, problem solving, executive functions).
  • Speech (phonation, articulation, fluency, resonance, and voice including aeromechanical components of respiration);
  • Language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic/social aspects of communication) including comprehension and expression in oral, written, graphic, and manual modalities; language processing; pre-literacy and language-based literacy skills, phonological awareness.
  • Swallowing or other upper aerodigestive functions such as infant feeding and aeromechanical events (evaluation of esophageal function is for the purpose of referral to medical professionals);
  • Voice (hoarseness (dysphonia), poor vocal volume (hypophonia), abnormal (e.g. rough, breathy, strained) vocal quality). Research demonstrates voice therapy to be especially helpful with certain patient populations; individuals with Parkinson's Disease often develop voice issues as a result of their disease.
  • Sensory awareness related to communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.

What is Speech and Language Therapy?

Speech therapy is the corrective or rehabilitative treatment of physical and/or cognitive deficits/disorders resulting in difficulty with verbal communication. This includes both speech (articulation, intonation, rate, intensity) and language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, both receptive and expressive language, including reading and writing). Depending on the nature and severity of the disorder, common treatments may range from physical strengthening exercises, instructive or repetitive practice and drilling, to the use of audio-visual aids.

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. Adults may need speech therapy after a stroke or traumatic accident that changes their ability to use language; for children, it generally involves 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 every kind of speech help there is. The professional in charge of your child's speech therapy -- called a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist, 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 whistling or licking exercises. For language, this might involve games to stimulate word retrieval, comprehension or conversation.

When does a child need speech therapy?

Kids might need speech-language therapy for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Hearing impairments
  • Cognitive (intellectual, thinking) or other developmental delays
  • Weak oral muscles
  • Excessive drooling
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Motor planning problems
  • Respiratory problems (breathing disorders)
  • Feeding and swallowing disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury

The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.

There appear to be critical periods for speech and language development in infants and young children when the brain is best able to absorb language. If these critical periods are allowed to pass without exposure to language, it will be more difficult to learn.

For the above reasons, therapy should begin as soon as possible. Children enrolled in therapy early (before they are 5 years old) tend to have better outcomes than those who begin therapy later.

This does not mean that older kids can't make progress in therapy; they may progress at a slower rate because they often have learned patterns that need to be changed.