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Health & Wellbeing

What is a Speech and Language Pathologist?

A Speech Pathologist points to flash cards on a desk
By Meg Eliason, Speech Pathologist

You've either heard or not heard of a Speech and Language Pathologist (Speechie!). There's no in-between, so, as an introduction, what is a Speechie?

There are many names to label our job, from Speech Therapist, Speech Pathologist, and Speech and Language Pathologist, but my favourite is Speechie.

We can support all ages, from a child's birth to a patient in palliative care, meaning Speech Pathology is about much more than just how a person talks.

Speech Pathologists cover three main areas: speech disorders, language disorders, and other disorders. Let's go into more detail.

Speech Disorders

  • Articulation - the way we say our speech sounds. Some children develop their sounds a bit slower than normal development whilst others must relearn clear sounds following a traumatic brain injury or stroke.
  • Phonology - The speech patterns we use. When we cannot say a sound, sometimes we make up our own rules on what we will say instead. Key examples with children are saying /k/ words with /t/ sounds as they have not yet mastered the harder sound (e.g., key = tee).
  • Apraxia - Difficulty planning and coordinating the movements needed to make speech sounds. The muscles on our face and inside our mouths are in charge of creating speech sounds, and if someone has suffered paralysis, a stroke, or has poor muscle tone, this can impact how we say our sounds.
  • Fluency - how smooth our speech is produced. This is more commonly known as stuttering and inability to talk without our speech patterns being interrupted.
  • Voice - problems with the way the voice sounds. Most clients seen with voice difficulties may be teachers who raise their voices a lot, singers who need to perform frequently, or someone who has had a stroke and whose voice box has been damaged.

Language Disorders

  • Receptive Language - Difficulty understanding language. A person may have trouble following directions, or remembering information, or even having difficulty identifying objects or sounds. Receptive language also plays a part for literacy development and understanding letters and sounds.
  • Expressive Language - Difficulty using language. A person may have difficulty describing an object, telling a story, labelling a picture, or even requesting help.
  • Pragmatic Language - social communication; the way we speak to each other. Pragmatics or social skills is about turn-taking, having a conversation with a person, giving appropriate eye contact, or even tolerating playing with others.

Other Disorders

  • Oral-Motor Disorders - weak tongue and/or lip muscles. Supporting one's speech with strengthening tongue movements.
  • Swallowing/Feeding Disorders - difficulty chewing and/or swallowing. Fussy eaters, limited food exposure. Swallowing disorders can affect young children who have difficulty bottle or breast feeding, to children who have limited diets, to adults who have had a stroke or degenerative disorder like Parkinson's disease which impacts how they swallow food and drink safely.

A Speech and Language Pathologist can cover all or some of these areas depending on their clinical setting. A hospital will see more patients with swallowing disorders over a community Speechie who may only work with children and language disorders.

Speechies can cover a lot of ground and can support anyone who needs help so if you ever want to know more about speech and language pathology come to Pivot 21 to find out more!

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