Boy writing with a speech language therapist
Photo by bialasiewicz/Envato

Basic guide: What do speech-language pathologists do?

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs, or sometimes just called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients.

Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or emotional problems.

Duties of speech-language pathologists

Speech-language pathologists commonly do the following:

When diagnosing patients, speech-language pathologists typically…

  • Communicate with patients to evaluate their levels of speech or language difficulty
  • Determine the extent of communication problems by having a patient complete basic reading and vocalizing tasks or by giving standardized tests
  • Identify treatment options
  • Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan

When treating patients, speech-language pathologists typically…

  • Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
  • Teach alternative communication methods, such as sign language, to patients with little or no speech capability
  • Work with patients to improve their ability to read and write correctly
  • Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
  • Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication disorders

The duties of the SLP

Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech. Their patients may be unable to speak at all — like many people with autism — or they may speak with difficulty. Some might instead have rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering.

They may work with those who are unable to understand language or with people who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.

Speech-language pathologists must also complete administrative tasks, including keeping accurate records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, treatment progress, any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan, and, eventually, they complete a final evaluation when the patient finishes the therapy.

Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or cleft palate.

In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians and surgeons, social workers, psychologists, and other healthcare workers. In schools, they work with teachers, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities.

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