What do Speech Therapists Do?

May 15, 2020

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, and what better way to celebrate than to spread awareness about our profession!

So, let’s start with the basics.

I get asked all the time, “What does a speech-language pathologist do?” and “How do I know if my child needs speech therapy?” While most people understand that speech therapists help children to pronounce words more clearly, they may not realize that our jobs are much more complicated than just that! In fact, the role of a pediatric speech-language pathologist includes diagnosis and treatment of speech, language, cognitive-communication and feeding disorders in children. A speech-pathologist can help facilitate the development of these skill when a child’s communication and/or feeding skills are delayed or impaired.

Speech disorders occur when a child has difficulty producing clear or fluent speech sounds or when he or she has problems with their voice or resonance. If your child’s speech is difficult to understand due to immature articulation patterns, stuttering, or voice concerns, a speech-language pathologist can determine if the child’s speech patterns are typical for his or her age and create a treatment plan if appropriate.

Children with language disorders may have trouble understanding others (receptive language) or explaining their thoughts, feelings, or needs to others (expressive language). A person with a language disorder may have difficulty with verbal or written communication skills. He or she may have trouble with language form (understanding how sounds and words go together to create sentences), vocabulary, and/or use of functional and socially appropriate language skills. These deficits may impact the child’s ability to communicate and learn.

Sometimes children with language disorders are non-verbal, only use a few words to communicate, or have speech that is unintelligible to most listeners even though most other children their age have effective verbal communication skills. If your child cannot effectively use speech to communicate with others, he or she may benefit from using a different communication modality such as sign language or augmentative/alternative communication (AAC). A speech-language pathologist can determine if an AAC device is appropriate for a child, help the family obtain a device, and train the child and the family to use it.

Cognitive-communication disorders may include problems with organizing thoughts, paying attention, remembering, planning, and problem-solving. A cognitive-communication disorder may result from neurological or congenital issues and may impact a child’s ability to understand and use language to communicate and learn.

A child with feeding or swallowing difficulties may have trouble with chewing, swallowing, and/or drinking. He or she may only eat a limited number of foods or may only be able to tolerate certain food consistencies or textures without choking or gagging. Children with feeding or swallowing difficulties may not grow and develop at the same rate as other children their age.

The speech-pathologists at McMains Children’s Developmental Center are highly trained and experienced to help families understand and navigate communication and feeding obstacles. We love what we do, and we aim to make communication easier and more effective for children and their families. If you are concerned that your child may not be on track for developing typical communication or feeding skills, give us a call. We would love to help!

This is the first in a two-part series about Speech Therapy at McMains Children’s Developmental Center. Part 2 offers signs to look for that may indicate a need for Speech Therapy.