There are many reasons families choose to receive speech therapy. Some receive a speech therapy referral from their doctor or pediatrician. Others proactively seek professional help after noticing their child struggling to communicate or lagging behind children their age.
Regardless, once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to choose a speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist. Picking the right speech therapist isn’t always an easy decision. There are many things to consider, including the nature of the communication or swallowing disorder, the therapist's qualifications, your budget, scheduling availability, and more.
Here are some of the most important factors that should go into your decision-making process.
Factors to consider when choosing a speech therapist
There are many wonderful speech therapists out there. The key is to find one that’s right for your family. At the end of the day, you should feel confident that your speech therapist has the clinical expertise to improve communication outcomes. They should be someone you can build a strong and trusting relationship with.
What is your communication disorder or problem?
Speech therapy covers a wide scope of practice, including speech and language disorders, as well as social communication, cognitive-communication, and oral motor/feeding and swallowing issues. While speech therapists can evaluate and treat a wide range of ages and diagnoses, it’s important to find one that’s experienced in your area of need.
For example, a speech therapist specialized in early language acquisition among young children may not be comfortable working with an older stroke survivor who’s experiencing limited cognitive function.
Think of it this way. Imagine you wanted to start taking guitar lessons. Any guitar teacher could provide foundational instruction to get you started. However, do you want to learn how to play classical guitar? Electric? Blues? Jazz? Acoustic? R&B? Finding a teacher with insight and experience in your desired style will help you master the right scales and strumming patterns.
When searching for a speech therapist, make sure to ask for their credentials, clinical speciality, and experience treating clients with similar needs. Here are some other important questions to ask a speech therapist before starting treatment.
Where do you want to receive speech therapy?
There are two main settings that children receive speech therapy: in their school or through a private practice. Each location has its pros and cons.
Speech therapy in a school is generally the most inexpensive option, and therapists have the benefit of collaborating with a child’s teachers. However, many schools are under-staffed and under-resourced when it comes to speech therapy. This could mean extensive paperwork, lengthy wait times, irregular schedules due to holidays, and most importantly, a lack of personalized, one-on-one instruction. Due to the volume of children requiring speech therapy at school, speech therapists often hold group sessions with multiple children, all with varying needs and levels of proficiency.
If you are unsatisfied with your school’s options, or want to seek supplemental care to improve your child’s progress, consider going the private practice route.
The advantages of going to a private clinic are plentiful. For one, your child will receive personalized attention and support from your speech therapist. The therapist will tailor instructions depending on your child’s communication strengths, deficits, and goals.
Second, while it can be difficult to find quality time with your speech therapist in a school setting, you can more easily develop strong parent-therapist relationships and stay in close contact about your child’s progress.
And finally, you have a greater choice in which speech therapist you choose to work with, making it easier to find one that meets your child’s needs.
It is true that speech therapy at a private clinic generally costs more. If you’re fortunate enough to have insurance, there is a chance your coverage could reduce these costs. However, speech therapy is routinely denied by insurers for a multitude of reasons (you can learn more about speech therapy insurance coverage here).
Finally, it's important to know that there are alternatives to public and private therapy. One example is local colleges that have Speech and Hearing Departments or offer speech therapy programs. This can be a way to receive a diagnosis and treatment from a student studying speech-language pathology, all under the supervision of a licensed therapist. While this can be a much more affordable option, one potential downside is that your child may work with a roster of rotating students as they trade shifts and graduate.
Online versus in-person speech therapy
Not long ago, speech therapy required that clients and therapists be physically located within the same room. Today, telehealth has revolutionized how many of us receive health-related services, including speech therapy.
From evaluation to diagnosis to evidence-based treatment, online speech therapy works similarly to traditional, in-person care. The only difference is that instead of sitting face-to-face in the same room, you’re sitting face-to-face through video conferencing software.
So why does this matter when choosing a speech therapist? Because if you do decide to go the online route, you want to make sure you find a professional who’s experienced and proficient with this delivery method. Beyond providing excellent care, many online speech therapists are also skilled at keeping children engaged in a virtual environment. They use different techniques to keep children's attention, and create a fun and engaging learning experience made possible by the interactivity of a digital platform. Examples include playing computer games, using different backgrounds, and giving your child remote access to draw on a virtual whiteboard.
Where to find a speech therapist
Using the selection criteria listed above will help you narrow your search and find a professional best suited to your needs. Once you’ve decided on your ideal candidate, there are many places to search for a speech therapist, including:
Expressable: If you’re considering speech therapy online, Expressable offers a large team of qualified therapists that have a range of specialities. After a free consultation to learn more about your communication goals, Expressable matches you with a speech therapist based on your needs, location, and availability (including evenings and weekends).
Doctor or pediatrician recommendation: If you’re working with a healthcare provider, many times they can provide referrals to local speech therapists.
Insurance company: If you have insurance, contact them to better understand their policies and coverage regarding speech therapy. They may also have a list of in-network providers that you can research and contact.
Online directories:There are several online directories where you can search speech therapists by location and qualifications. One of these directories is compiled by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), which is the professional credentialing organization for speech-language pathologists.
Colleges: As mentioned, receiving therapy from a college student studying to become a speech therapist may be a viable and affordable option for some families.