Sometimes it might seem like your speech therapist is speaking another language. With as much time as you spend talking with them, you may still hear some terms that feel unfamiliar–especially if you’re just starting speech therapy. Here’s a helpful glossary defining some common terms used in speech therapy sessions. You may also see some of these terms included in your child’s speech therapy goals. Of course, if you ever encounter a word or phrase that you’re unsure about, please ask! We speech therapists never mean to be unclear, but sometimes these terms are so second nature to us that a reminder is helpful.
1. Speech and language
Speech-language pathologists are constantly using the phrase “speech and language.” But don’t those two words mean the same thing? Actually, not quite! This phrase refers to two aspects of a person’s ability to communicate with others:
Speech is the motoric production of speech sounds using your tongue, mouth, and breath.
Language consists of using nonverbal language, verbal language, and correct grammar and sentence structure in order to communicate thoughts and needs.
You may hear this term used during an evaluation for speech therapy. This evaluation is often called a speech and language evaluation, because the speech therapist will assess both areas of development in order to determine the need and goals for therapy.
What is articulation? Articulation refers to a person’s ability to make speech sounds. If your child is in speech therapy because they have a hard time saying their /r/ or /s/ sounds, for instance, then they are receiving what’s called articulation treatment. You may hear your speech therapist say something like, “Your child’s articulation skills are improving.” For kids needing help with speech sounds, you’ll probably hear this word frequently!
“Production” is another term you’re likely to hear if your child is working on articulation. It refers to the way a person says a speech sound. Your speech therapist may talk about your child’s production of their target sound–the sound they’re working on in therapy. You may hear phrases like, “He needed less help with his /r/ productions today,” or “His /s/ productions are sounding much better.”
4. Expressive and receptive language
Language can be categorized into two areas. “Expressive language” refers to the verbal and nonverbal output of communication–how a person expresses themselves. “Receptive language” refers to a person's ability to understand what’s said to them.
Both of these areas of language development are equally important. And strong skills in one area help children grow their skills in the other area.
5. Joint attention
Joint attention is one of the earlier skills of language development. Joint attention refers to a person’s ability to focus on an item or task that a partner is also focusing on. Communication cannot exist without joint attention.
For example, when two people play with a toy together, they are focused on the same task and can communicate about what they’re doing. Joint attention can even be as simple as when a baby looks at their bottle, then looks back to their caregiver. They’re letting the caregiver know that they see their bottle, and they want it fast!
Modeling is when a speech therapist or caregiver shows a child how to do something. This can mean modeling gestures, like teaching a baby to wave goodbye or use simple signs. It can also refer to someone modeling words or sounds for a child to imitate.
Speaking of imitation, in the context of communication development, it refers to when a child repeats what is modeled to them, whether it’s a gesture, sound, or word. Imitation is frequently used to teach new skills. Speech therapists watch for children to begin imitating a new skill before being able to do it independently.
When your speech therapist is helping your child with a new skill, they will provide cueing. Cueing refers to the different types of assistance a speech therapist gives your child to help them say a new sound or master a new skill.
For example, if your child is learning the /l/ sound, their speech-language pathologist may give them verbal cueing. They may say something like, “Remember, your tongue moves up for this sound,” instead of actually showing your child how to do it.
Children need different types of cueing, and the type and amount of cueing will likely change throughout the course of treatment. The objective is for your child to be meeting their goals with as minimal cueing as possible by the end of their time in speech therapy.
What does “fluency” mean? Fluency refers to the smoothness and continuity of a person’s speech. When people receive speech therapy for stuttering, it is often called fluency treatment.
What is “pragmatics”? Pragmatics refers to the social language we use when we’re interacting with others. Examples include being able to stay on topic within a conversation, not interrupting when someone else is talking, and using appropriate nonverbal communication with the person with whom you’re speaking.
A speech-language evaluation is often completed at the first visit with a speech therapist. An evaluation is the testing that a speech therapist performs to assess a child’s current communication strengths and weaknesses. The results of the evaluation determine whether the child needs speech therapy and what the goals of that therapy will be.
If you hear a speech therapist talk about “treatment” or a “treatment plan,” they’re simply referring to speech therapy.
If you’re seeking speech therapy for your child and you’re told you need a referral or a script, this means a referral from your doctor. Many people may not realize that in order for health insurance to authorize speech therapy, a statement from the pediatrician confirming the need for a speech-language evaluation is needed.
We hope this glossary of common terms sets you up for success in communicating with your speech therapist. But remember, you can always ask if there’s something that needs an explanation. Your speech therapist will be happy to address it!