I decided that when I was a freshman in college that I wanted to (try to) be a speech-language pathologist. This was after I attended a seminar about the major, Communication Sciences and Disorders and the different avenues that you could take after receiving that education - usually split into SLPs and Audiologists. I was then made aware that I needed to get into school (again) and obtain a graduate degree to officially call myself an SLP.
So, there I was at 22, having earned my undergraduate degree, living in Boston as a grad student while most of my other friends had real-life jobs. Let me tell you how some of my small talk conversations would go during this time…
“You’re getting your degree in speech-language pathology? Cool. So what can you do with that?”
“Oh, you want to be a speech pathologist? Is that like for people with speech impediments?”
“Is that the same thing as a speech teacher?”
“Oh! My sister had speech therapy as a kid because she couldn’t say her Rs. They got to play board games.”
“Well actually, [*insert long rant about the Big 9 and an SLPs scope of practice*].”
I was genuinely surprised by how many people I spoke to that did not know what an SLP did. However, it did make me think back to that freshman year of college when I wasn’t even sure what an SLP did… Though, I was mainly aware that they helped people. So, let’s talk about how:
Generally speaking, SLPs provide clinical care for individuals with communication and swallowing disorders. They can work with children and/or adults in many different types of settings. For residents of the United States, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the general governing body that outlines an SLP’s scope of practice (aka - what in the world we do). ASHA has outlined our scope of practice into what we call “The Big 9,” which are 9 general areas of communication/swallowing that SLPs have the ability to assess, diagnose, and treat.
SLPs provide clinical care for individuals with communication and swallowing disorders.
What are speech-pathologists trained to do?
According to ASHA, the Big 9 includes:
Referring to how individuals produce speech sounds. For example, an individual with a lisp may see an SLP for treatment to reduce this.
Referring to the way words and phrases flow together when we speak. For example, an individual who stutters may see an SLP to work on strategies to make stuttering easier (e.g., fluency shaping strategies).
3. Voice and resonance (including respiration and phonation)
Referring to the way airflow for speech is produced. For example, an individual with vocal nodules may see an SLP for treatment to reduce abnormal pitch or vocal abuse.
Referring to neurological differences that affect the way individuals understand or express language. For example, an individual who has difficulty with reading comprehension may work with an SLP to increase this skill.
Referring to individuals who have hearing loss, which involves including the impact on speech and language. For example, a child with a cochlear implant may see an SLP to work on strategies for improving their communication with others.
Referring to individuals having problems with oral, pharyngeal, esophageal, and/or related functions, including oral function for feeding. For example, an SLP would assess and provide treatment for an individual who has experienced a stroke and was diagnosed with dysphagia.
Referring to attention, memory, sequencing, problem-solving, executive functioning, etc. For example, an individual with a severe developmental disability may experience difficulty sequencing, or understanding the steps of, basic tasks (e.g., brushing teeth) and may require specialized support to learn these kinds of skills.
8. Social aspects of communication (pragmatic language)
Referring to challenging behavior, ineffective social skills, lack of communication opportunities, etc. For example, an individual with autism may present with limitations related to demonstrating appropriate social behavior and can work with an SLP to increase their conversational/communication skills.
Referring to oral, manual, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) techniques, and assistive technologies (AT). For example, an individual who has difficulty communicating verbally may work with an SLP to learn to use an AAC system (think: speech generating device) to increase their communication abilities.
Where can SLPs work?
- Skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes)
- Private practices/clinics
- Higher level education (professors; within university clinics)
- Rehabilitation centers
- Research environments
- From home via telehealth
Above, you see all of the areas that SLPs have the skills and training to treat. However, like many health-related professions, many SLPs have “specialties” or preferred treatment areas and focus on that specific domain. This can also affect the setting an SLP chooses to work. For example, someone working in an adult hospital setting may exclusively treat cognitive areas of communication and/or swallowing difficulties, while another SLP in a K-5 school setting may focus more on articulation, fluency, receptive and expressive language, and social aspects of communication.
Or, if you are like us, you may work in a school setting, pediatric clinic, conduct telehealth services, and manage a blog :). We love being SLPs for the flexibility and the ability to work with a range of individuals. If you would like to know more, feel free to reach out to us for a chat! firstname.lastname@example.org