Whether speech therapy is for yourself or a loved one, there are a few things that your speech-language pathologist wants you to know. From our team of therapists, here’s the inside scoop on how speech therapy works, what to expect, and what you can do to get the best results.
1. It helps to keep an open mind.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to speech therapy. It’s extremely individualized–which is a good thing, since we all learn differently! Your speech therapist might suggest experimenting with games, drills, even role-play. Being open to learning and trying different evidence-based therapeutic interventions is important.
2. Speech therapy takes time.
We all like instant gratification. But there’s no magic pill when it comes to speech therapy. How quickly you see results depends on several factors, such as the severity of the challenge and how often you practice the skills you’re learning.
The truth is, the only way to make progress is with hard work, determination, and consistency, both in and out of speech therapy sessions. We might wish to see big changes after just one or two sessions, but sometimes changes are subtle. As a speech-language pathologist, I might notice progress such as improvements with turn-taking, or sustained eye contact when there wasn’t before. I know it’s easier said than done, but speech therapy works when you stick with it!
3. Beware of claims that sound too good to be true.
With a click of the mouse, you can find a sea of products, programs, and people making claims that this vitamin, diet, educational program, or app will help improve your communication skills–fast! But for speech therapy to truly work, you need a qualified speech-language pathologist to provide an evaluation. That way the right diagnosis can be made, and then the right evidence-based treatment plan can be created and used.
4. You need to do your homework.
Let’s say you wanted to learn to play guitar. So you attend a 30-minute lesson, but you don’t pick up the guitar again until the next weekly lesson. It wouldn’t be a surprise if you hadn’t made any progress–or even forgot some of what you’d learned. Now imagine repeating this week after week. It would quickly become a waste of everyone’s time and energy, and you’d likely grow frustrated.
How do you avoid this in speech therapy? By completing the home practice activities that your speech therapist assigns between sessions. You could have the best speech-language pathologist in the world, but if nothing is practiced outside of sessions, progress won’t happen the way you want it to.
5. If you have a support system, use it!
Speech-language pathologists know that when a client has a solid support system–someone (or someones!) who consistently shows up and participates in their speech therapy–they’re more likely to make progress. And they do it at a faster rate, too.
A support system can be a parent, caregiver, adult child, spouse, sibling, best friend, or even a co-worker. Basically, it’s anyone you feel comfortable with and who’s committed to your success. Your speech therapist can show them how to continue helping you outside of speech therapy sessions.
6. It’s usually not a good idea to “wait and see.”
Some children may be “late bloomers,” and their speech delay isn’t a cause for alarm. But until that’s confirmed by a professional, we can never assume it’s the case. Similarly, some adults may experience a head injury or stroke and recover well. However, if you have any concerns at all, it’s never too early or late to speak with a speech-language pathologist. There’s no downside to having a speech and language evaluation to confirm that everything is progressing as it should. Either you receive peace of mind, or you benefit from the education and knowledge you need to start tackling your communication challenges.
7. Everything we do has a purpose–even if it just looks like playing.
In my years as a speech-language pathologist, I’ve heard clients say, “We used to go to speech therapy but stopped because they didn’t actually do anything. They were just playing with my child,” or “They were just sitting with my mom.” For many people, speech and language progress can’t be made by completing worksheets at a desk. Speech therapy is about integrating strategies into your everyday life. Your speech therapist should explain your therapy goals and the strategies used to achieve them.
If you’re a caregiver of a child receiving therapy, rest assured–when we spend a session stacking blocks and knocking them down, we’re not just playing! We may be targeting important language goals such as following multi-step directions, or mastering positional concepts. And if you are a spouse or an adult child of a parent receiving therapy, when we’re sitting with your loved one, we might be letting some silence fill the room to help them process language so they can generate an appropriate response. Your speech therapist is constantly getting information from everything they do in a session.
8. When we say “language,” we don’t mean English.
Here’s a peek into speech-therapy speak. When we refer to “language,” we’re talking about two types: receptive and expressive. Speech therapy can help people who struggle with either type.
Receptive language is your understanding of language. It’s the skill needed for someone to understand what’s being said. People who have challenges in this area might seem as if they’re not listening or aren’t interested in what someone is saying to them. They may have a hard time following verbal instructions or understanding questions and sentences.
Expressive language refers to the skill of communicating with others verbally, in writing, or with sign language or gestures. Individuals who have expressive language challenges may not use the correct grammar or have a large vocabulary. They may speak in short sentences.
9. We treat more than simply speech.
When you think of speech therapy, you might picture a child who stutters or has a lisp. But speech-language pathologists evaluate and treat people of all ages who have communication disorders, cognitive challenges, and even swallowing disorders. We offer a wide range of services and support for:
Developmental disabilities such as autism
Developmental or speech delays
Learning disabilities (e.g., auditory processing)
Memory/attention problems resulting from a traumatic brain injury
Hearing loss (e.g., aural rehabilitation)
Diseases such as cancer, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis
Neurogenic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
Cognitive disorders such as dementia
10. Speech therapy is for everyone!
There’s no age limit on speech therapy. Everyone can benefit. From a child who needs help with saying their first word, to an adult who needs help with public speaking or word finding, speech-language pathologists can help anyone. It’s never too late to get the tools and support you need to communicate clearly!