Speech-language therapy is a specialized service which focuses on helping children and adults who are experiencing difficulty with different aspects of their communication, their cognitive or thinking skills, and their swallowing abilities. Speech-language therapists, also known as Speech-language pathologists, perform customized evaluations designed to identify deficit areas, and provide treatment based on an individualized plan of care, to help develop, or in the case of adults, regain the skills needed for effective communication and interactions.
Areas targeted in speech-language therapy include the following:
- Cognitive-communication disorders which encompasses difficulty with thinking skills such as attention, memory, planning, organization and problem-solving. While these disorders may be present from birth, they often result from traumatic brain injury, stroke, or other neurologic conditions.
- Speech disorders which involve difficulty producing the sounds of speech accurately, and can affect a person’s ability to be understood. Dysarthria is a kind of motor speech disorder that occurs when the muscles required for speech are weak or uncoordinated due to brain damage. Fluency disorders (stuttering) are another type of speech difficulty that may require therapy.
- Voice disorders occur when an individual has difficulty with their pitch, intonation, volume, or vocal quality. They can be caused by various factors, such as certain neurologic conditions, vocal misuse, growths, and intubation. Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, for instance, may experience muscle weakness which can affect their ability to project their voice and be heard easily by others.
- Language disorders may occur when a person has trouble expressing themself and may manifest as word-finding difficulty or reduced organization of thoughts. Language impairments may also involve difficulty understanding others or processing information accurately and efficiently. Language difficulties can affect both spoken and written communication.
- Social communication disorders affect an individual’s ability to use their verbal and nonverbal skills appropriately and can negatively impact social interactions as well as the ability to maintain employment. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder have problems with their social skills, as do some people with traumatic brain injury.
- Swallowing difficulty can also arise from various neurologic disorders or injuries and can negatively impact the safety and ease with which food and liquid are tolerated.
The speech-language pathologist employs various techniques including retraining exercises as well as education and instruction in the use of compensatory strategies, to improve the patient’s functional communication, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Treatment may be provided on an outpatient basis, or in the person’s home or a relevant community environment, as appropriate.