What is a Speech Pathologist and what do they do?

We have often been asked what a Speech Pathologist does. Speech Pathologists or Speech Therapists, as they were previously known, work in a variety of settings. Speech Pathology Australia has produced a guide which explains all you need to know about Speech Pathologists. I have reproduced it below, it's a relative easy read. If you have any questions on specific circumstances for your child , please contact our senior Paediatric Speech Pathologist, Maria, on 0408 711 706.

What is a Speech Pathologist?

Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, fluency and voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language.People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist.

Using assessment tools, speech pathologists are able to diagnose each person’s specific problem and devise a treatment plan that best suits their needs. Speech pathologists are specialists who work with people across their entire lifespan. An adult  might visit a speech pathologist to help them understand and find the right words to use after a stroke, while a child might need treatment to help their expressive  language (putting words together and being understood) or receptive language (understanding instructions and meanings). Speech pathologists also work with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), devices that help people who find it difficult to speak or write to communicate more easily. This can include ‘unaided systems’ like signing and gestures or ‘aided systems’ like picture charts, books and special computers or devices.
 
Speech pathology is practised in a wide variety of settings – schools, hospitals, aged care homes, universities, kindergartens, rehabilitation centres, community health centres, private practice and mental health services. Some speech pathologists specialise in areas of ‘complex need’, such as autism or cerebral palsy and may work in specialist intervention services for people with these disabilities. Speech pathology is studied at undergraduate or masters degree level and is offered at many major Australian universities.
 
Speech pathologists work with many different people with lots of different communication challenges.
They could include:
•    giving feeding advice to a mother whose baby has a cleft palate
•    working with children who are difficult to understand in a child care centre
•    helping a primary school student understand what their teacher is telling them
•    working with a high school student with a stutter to speak more fluently and with confidence
•    training a teacher who constantly loses their voice to use it more effectively
•    working with a young man with severe brain injury due to a motorcycle accident to speak clearly again
•    helping an elderly man with dementia to communicate with his family and carers
•    working with a woman post-stroke to regain her communication skills
•    providing education about different ways to communicate for teachers, doctors, the police and parents
•    providing communication strategies and assistive devices for a person with cerebral palsy who cannot communicate verbally
•    teaching a person to swallow safely and without choking following a stroke
•    assisting children and adults who have difficulties learning to read

In the next series on Speech Pathology I'll cover the topic of 'Helping your baby to talk'.