Speech Therapy Basics: What are Speech Language Pathologists & How Can They Help?

Speech therapy, also known as speech-language pathology, is the study of disorders that affect a person’s speech, language, cognition, voice or swallowing and the rehabilitation of these issues, which can be both physical and cognitive deficits. A person may need speech therapy as the result of an illness or medical condition, such as a stroke .

Communication involves the exchange of information between two parties. Humans, as social animals, place a great deal of importance on communication, which includes speech along with receptive and expressive language. Speech means not only the act of talking or articulation, but also intonation, rate and intensity, which adds meaning and nuance. Receptive and expressive language, makes our words “alive” and able to transcend beyond just the human voice box as it includes phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, reading and writing—along with non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expression and gestures. Our interpersonal relationships depend heavily on our communication skills. When one’s ability to communicate is limited, his or her quality of life may be severely affected. Often, this results in loss of social interactions, economic opportunities and even self-sufficiency. This can create feelings of isolation, loss of self-esteem and potentially depression .

What Speech Therapists Do

Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), or speech therapists, are trained to evaluate and diagnose individuals who have communication disorders and then design individual treatment programs that are specifically tailored towards the individual. These programs focus on improving or compensating for the skills that have been affected. For instance, if expressive or receptive language skills are affected, the SLP may provide specific drills and activities to improve them. If cognitive skills, such as sustained attention to task, information processing, memory, reasoning, problem solving or executive functioning (planning, initiating and flexibility) are affected, compensatory strategies may be emphasized, including using a daily journal or organizer to facilitate deficits. If oral musculature is weak, muscles of the lips and tongue may be less coordinated and speech may be unclear. In this case, strengthening exercises, or compensatory strategies, may be emphasized to increase speech intelligibility. Regardless of the specific cause, treatment always focuses on heightening client awareness of deficits in order to improve self-monitoring, expectations and progress tracking.

While the SLP may not always be able to help fully restore communication capabilities, the therapist can often assist in designing coping strategies and making environmental modifications to improve the client’s quality of life.

The following article was written by Joanna Boyer M.S., M.A. CCC-SLP and Terri Tarnoff Snyder, M.A. CCC-SLP, the founders of Speech Remedy, LLC. Speech Remedy provides cutting-edge, multisensory therapeutic materials focusing on adult (16 years and older) neurological rehabilitation. Speech Remedy's products can be used to aid in the rehabilitative process post stroke or other head injury or may be used for mental stimulation to delay the effects of neurological degeneration due to aging or disease. Visit www.speechremedy.com to learn more about the company and the products they offer.