What Is Speech Therapy?Abby Barnes, M.S., CCC-SLP
If you’ve heard about speech therapy but aren’t totally sure what it is, you’re not alone. Read on to learn what speech therapy is, who it helps, how speech therapy works, and what a speech therapist does.
What is speech therapy?
To put it simply, speech therapy is a series of exercises and techniques that help people improve the way they communicate. Speech therapy can benefit people of all ages, from very young toddlers (also referred to as early intervention), to teens, to older adults.
Speech therapy may address something as specific as improving a lisp, to something as expansive as re-learning how to speak after a stroke. It all depends what conditions and complications are present for the person receiving therapy. But no matter what, the goal is to enable people to express their needs and share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. We all deserve to be understood, and speech therapists are there to help make that happen.
What does speech therapy treat?
Speech therapy treats a variety of conditions and disorders. Speech-language pathologists, also known as speech therapists, help people with the following:
Speech delay: When a person, typically a child, is not meeting typical speech milestones expected for their age.
Speech sound disorders: When a person has difficulty saying sounds or words correctly past a certain age. Some sounds that may be hard for people to master include /r/, /s/, /l/, /sh/, and /th/.
Language disorder or delay: A type of communication disorder that makes it difficult to use, process, and comprehend language. People with language disorders might have trouble understanding what other people are saying (receptive language) or expressing their own needs or feelings (expressive language).
Stuttering: Stuttering, sometimes called stammering or disfluency, is a communication disorder that disrupts that natural flow of speech. People who stutter often repeat certain syllables, words, or phrases (li-li-like this), prolong them (lllllike this), or experience abnormal stoppages of certain sounds and syllables.
Voice disorders: Anything that interferes with your vocal cord movement can cause a voice disorder. Voice disorders can affect the pitch, volume, tone, and quality of your voice. Some voice disorders include laryngitis, polyps, vocal cord paralysis, and spasmodic dysphonia. If you have a voice disorder, your voice may quiver, sound strained, be weak, or change in pitch.
Lisping: Many of us know what a lisp sounds like. The most common form involves making a /th/ sound when trying to say a /s/ or /z/ sound. Lisps are caused by the incorrect placement of a person’s tongue while speaking.
Apraxia of speech: People with apraxia have difficulty with the mouth movements needed to turn sounds into syllables, syllables into words, and words into phrases. They struggle to form coherent sounds and sentences, which can make them hard to understand.
Social communication disorder: People with a social communication disorder (also called a pragmatic language impairment) have a hard time using communication appropriately in social situations. It can be challenging for them to follow the social “rules” of a spoken conversation.
Professional communication: A speech therapist can work with you to improve your professional communication skills, such as public speaking, interviewing, social skills, and clear speech. If you’d like to change or modify your accent, speech therapy can help with that as well.
Gender-affirming voice training: Having a voice that truly matches your authentic self is important for your well-being and confidence. For some transgender individuals, their voice may not align with their gender identity and expression, causing discomfort or dysphoria. Gender-affirming voice training, also known as transgender voice therapy, can help those who wish to modify their voice.
Aphasia: Resulting from a brain injury or stroke affecting the language areas of the brain, aphasia affects the ability to use or understand words. Speech therapy can help people improve their ability to recall words, speak, read, and write.
Executive function issues: Speech therapy can help people with executive function issues like problem solving and memory-related tasks. These problems may be the result of a traumatic brain injury.
Dementia: This is an overall term for diseases and conditions that result in a loss of cognitive functioning. Dementia not only affects a person’s memory, but their ability to use language. Speech therapy can help with this, as well as provide help for eating, drinking, and swallowing difficulties related to dementia.
Feeding issues: Speech therapists work with a variety of people who have feeding and swallowing issues. They can help children or adults with strengthening the oral motor skills necessary for eating, or help them increase the variety of food that they eat.
How does speech therapy work?
For both children and adults, speech therapy starts with an evaluation by a speech therapist. The speech therapist will use tests and questionnaires to get a sense of the person’s current communication strengths and weaknesses. This information allows the speech therapist to create a treatment plan with goals specific to that person.
The speech therapist will decide how often the person should receive speech therapy. Speech therapy sessions are usually held once or twice per week. During sessions, the speech therapist will help the client work toward their goals. They will do this through various activities and situations that will require the client to learn and use new skills.
For children, speech therapy is often play-based. The goal is for sessions to be fun and motivating, so the child wants to participate! For teens and adults, the tasks may be more straightforward.
Speech therapy may take place in a group, at a clinic or a child’s school. Or it may be one-on-one sessions, with the speech therapist treating the person individually. Therapy sessions can be held in person or online via video chat.
No matter the condition being treated or the age of the client, the speech therapist should assign practice activities to work on at home, between sessions. Consistent practice helps people master and maintain what they’ve learned in therapy. This way, they can pick back up at their next session and keep moving forward.
What does a speech therapist do?
A significant amount of education, training, and certification is required to become a speech-language pathologist. All certified speech therapists must have at least a master’s degree in order to practice. This includes extensive internship placements working with both children and adults, followed by certification exams. In some states, a speech therapist is also required to have a teaching certificate in order to work in an academic setting.
The first year of a speech therapist’s career includes a clinical fellowship. They work with clients while being supervised by a certified speech-language pathologist. Once enough clinical hours are achieved, the speech therapist can apply for their full certification.
During each session, the speech therapist will monitor your performance and assess your progress toward your goals.
Speech therapists teach and guide their clients through the phases of therapy. In the beginning, they will help the person with speech and language exercises as much as needed. This support will taper off as the client becomes more independent in their new skills. Here’s an example related to learning how to make the /s/ sound:
First, the speech therapist will show the person how to make an /s/ sound, using a variety of cues and techniques to achieve the right tongue placement.
Eventually, they’ll shift to using reminders such as, “Remember, your tongue stays behind your teeth.”
Over time, the person will need less help from the speech therapist. When they’re able to make a correct /s/ sound independently, in everyday conversation, they’re likely ready to graduate from speech therapy.
During each session, the speech therapist will monitor the person’s performance and assess their progress toward their goals.
How to get started in speech therapy
If you’d like to begin speech therapy for yourself or a loved one, don’t put it off. The sooner intervention begins, the sooner the person will start to see progress!
If you’re looking for services for your child, ask their pediatrician for speech therapy recommendations. You can also talk to your insurance company, read reviews online, or ask friends and family for speech therapists they would recommend.
There are often wait lists for speech therapy, which is another reason to get started in your search. If you have questions and would like to talk with a speech therapist, contact Expressable to schedule a free phone consultation. We’re here to support you or your loved one on their communication journey, every step of the way.