Everything you need to know about Speech Pathology

Everything you need to know about Speech Pathology

Humans use a combination of methods to communicate with each other so that we can express ourselves, share our ideas, and form communities. Speech is an important part of what separates humans from other animals and it is a demonstration of our capabilities to communicate in more complex ways.

Speech pathology is the study of communication disorders such as difficulties with speaking, listening, reading, writing, comprehension, social skills, stuttering, and swallowing. The symptoms are often identified in children during their early years and can be treated by a speech therapist using a variety of techniques.

Whether you’re just curious what speech pathology is or you are personally connected to a speech pathology through your own experience or a loved one’s, there are important concepts to understand about its causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Speech Pathology?

Any pathology from a medical or developmental perspective is simply a study of the diseases or disorders that affect specific organs or functions. A speech pathologist studies, diagnoses, and likely treats communication disorders including difficulties with speaking, listening, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering, swallowing, and understanding language.

Speech therapy is used to help people who have identified speech pathologies such as difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, strokes, brain injuries, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, along with other problems that can affect speech and language.

Starting speech therapy early on in the development stage increases the chance of meaningful progress in developing speech skills. Between birth and the age of three years, the brain is maturing and learning rapidly and is therefore the most important window of time to improve speech and communication skills so that a loved one can live life to their fullest.

What is the Difference Between a Speech Therapist and Speech Pathologist?

Speech pathology is sometimes used interchangeably with speech therapy, so keep this in mind when you come across differing terminology. Some people consider speech therapy as the treatment for speech pathology.

That said, there is no real difference between a Speech Therapist and a Speech Pathologist in practice. The two terms have been used throughout the years to describe someone who works with those having communication impairments. In the past, the term speech pathologist was used by professionals to describe themselves, but today the most commonly used term is speech language pathologist, or SLP. Other terms include speech correctionist or speech teacher.

What Disorders do Speech Pathologists Treat?

The job of a speech pathologist includes preventing, assessing, identifying, diagnosing, and treating speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in both children and adults. Some speech pathologists specialise to treat specific illnesses or groups of people.

Speech Disorders

Generally speaking, a speech disorder is when a person has difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently. This can include stuttering, difficulty making specific sounds, or those with voice or resonance difficulties.

Language Disorders

Language disorders, sometimes called aphasia, are when someone has difficulty with receptive language (understanding others) or expressive language (sharing ideas, thoughts, and feelings). These disorders can relate to spoken or written language and could include phonology and morphology (both related to sounds), syntax (structure), semantics (content), or pragmatics (or use) of language. These disorders are common after a person experiences a stroke or injury that affects specific parts of the brain, but can also be unexplained.

Social Communication

A speech pathologist can help when a person has difficulty with the social use of verbal or nonverbal communication. This could include difficulty communicating:

  • For social purposes such as greeting, commenting, asking questions, etiquette
  • Adjusting language and communication to suit the listener and environment
  • Following rules for conversation and storytelling

This type of disorder is commonly found in people living with autism spectrum disorder and other conditions such as traumatic brain injury.

Cognitive-communication Disorders

These disorders affect people’s ability to organise thoughts, pay attention, remember, plan and problem solve. These symptoms can manifest as a result of stroke, traumatic brain injury or dementia.

Swallowing Disorders

Also known as dysphagia is when someone has difficulty eating and swallowing which may follow an illness, stroke, injury or surgery.

In addition to these disorders, Speech pathologists also:

  • Facilitate aura rehabilitation for those who have hearing issues.
  • Facilitate augmentative and alternative communication (or AAC) systems for those with severe comprehension difficulties such as autism spectrum disorder or progressive neurological disorders.
  • Provide workshops for anyone who might want to improve on their communication skills.

What are the Benefits of Speech Therapy?

Communication and the ability to express yourself is integral to high quality of life. Improving communication and skills for people living with disabilities is the main goal for speech therapy. Other benefits include:

  • Improving the ability to understand and express thoughts, ideas and feelings
  • Improving speech to make it more intelligible to be understood better by others
  • Improving the ability to problem solve independently
  • Improving ability to swallow safely
  • Preparation for school environment
  • Developing pre-literacy skills
  • Improving vocal quality
  • Increasing speech fluency
  • Developing practical and social skills
  • Increasing quality of life, self esteem and independence

What Techniques are used in Speech Therapy?

Each individual will likely have their own goals to accomplish with their speech therapy journey, those goals may include:

  • Using strengthening and coordination exercises, sound repetition and imitation to Improve coordination of speech muscles.
  • Using visual and auditory aids such as mirrors and tape recorders to improve communication between the brain and body.
  • Practising breathing exercises to improve fluency
  • Teaching different communication techniques such as gestures, signing or augmentative communication devices.

How to Know if your Child Needs Speech Therapy

Every single one of us is different and will develop skills at varying times throughout our childhood and adulthood, but there are signs and developmental goals to look out for as children progress to make sure they are getting all the help they need to live a full and healthy life.

Things to look out for if you think your child may need speech therapy:

  • Babbling – between the age of 4-7 months your baby is likely to be experimenting with sounds through babbling. If you notice they are unusually quiet this may be the first sign of a language disorder.
  • Gesturing – pointing, waving and other gestures become very common between the age of 7-12 months in most babies, if you notice a lack of gestures, it is possible they may need some help.
  • Understanding – Children between 12 and 24 months generally start to comprehend simple spoken requests. If your child has difficulty understanding simple instructions a speech therapist may be able to help.
  • Speaking – Between 1.5 and 2 years, it is common for children to start forming sentences, if you notice your toddler is delayed you may want to have them screened for a speech disorder.

It’s important as parents to keep an eye out for signs of any issues especially during a child’s first few years as this is the crucial window to help them develop the skills they need. If you are worried that your child may have communication issues, feel free to reach out to us at Maple Community Services.