More than "just speech"!

What does a speech pathologist do? You may be surprised to find they do much more than "just speech"!

Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, swallowing, fluency and voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language. People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist. (www.Speech Pathology Australia.com.au)

Speech pathologists help children communicate, whether this is through speech, signing, reading and writing or alternative ways of communicating such as with PECS cards or technology.

Speech pathologists can help children in the following areas:

Speech: This relates to the sounds that are used to make spoken words. Children who have speech difficulties may be hard to understand or develop speech sounds more slowly that others of the same age.

Receptive language: This refers to understanding what others say. Children with receptive language or comprehension problems have difficulty understanding words, sentences, questions and stories, following instructions and understanding concepts. Receptive language is closely linked to reading comprehension.

Expressive language: This refers to how a child expresses their own needs, wants and ideas. It relates to the way children use words, sentences and grammar as well as things like describing events and telling stories. Some children may need alternative ways to express themselves such as signing, picture cards or special technology.

Social communication: This is also called pragmatics and refers to the way children understand and communicate in social situations. Children with social communication difficulties have trouble using and understanding facial expressions and body language, holding conversations with others and communicating in a socially accepted way.

Fluency: This refers to how smoothly speech is produced. Children with fluency difficulties are often referred to as having a stutter. Speech pathologists can help a child to learn to speech more smoothly.

Voice: Children with voice problems may speak too loudly or softly, or have a husky, breathy or nasal sounding voice. Speech pathologists can help correct this by teaching children to use their voice correctly.

Literacy: As reading and writing are communication skills, speech pathologists are often the best people to help children who are struggling in these areas.

Feeding and eating: As the same muscles are used for both eating and speaking speech pathologists also work with children who have trouble with sucking, chewing and swallowing as well as fussy eaters.

How would a speech pathologist work with my child?

A speech pathologist will:

  • gather information from parents and other important people in your child's life such as teachers or carers
  • assess your child's skills through watching your child do specific tasks. This may include the use of tests designed specifically to assess certain skills.
  • analyse your child's strengths and weakness
  • develop a suitable intervention program
  • help the child to develop target skills though specially chosen activities in therapy sessions and through home and school programs
  • provide strategies for parents, teachers and career’s to support the child in their daily activities.

Children who can benefit from speech pathology include:

  • children with developmental delays or disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, hearing problems and learning difficulties
  • children who are slow to learn to speak
  • children who are hard to understand
  • children who have difficulties forming sentences and using grammar correctly
  • children who have difficulties listening, answering questions and following instructions
  • children who have difficulties with holding conversations and interacting with peers
  • children who struggle learning to read, write or spell
  • children who stutter
  • children who have a breathy, husky or nasal voice.
  • children who are delayed in the development of play skills or social skills

A speech and language assessment may be recommended if

  • your child is having difficulties communicating,
  • shows speech or language skills below the level expected for their age
  • is having difficulties with learning
  • if there are things in your child’s development or history which increase the chances of language difficulties such as hearing problems, prematurity, developmental delay or some disabilities such as autism
  • your child’s speech is hard to understand
  • they have a stutter
  • their voice sounds unusual,
  • they have trouble understanding the speech of others
  • they have feeding or eating problems.

A speech and language assessment usually begins with gathering information from the parent about their concerns as well as information about the child’s medical and developmental history. Information from school is also useful and often the child’s teacher is asked to complete a questionnaire about the child’s abilities. Reports from any previous assessments that the child has had are also taken into account.

A number of activities are used to assess the child’s communication skills. This may involve use of formal tests or less formal play and book based activities or a combination of both depending on the child’s age and abilities. The speech pathologist will first watch your child and take into account information from the parent to choose the most useful assessment activities for each child. Parents are welcome and encouraged to be in the room for the assessment in most cases.

Assessment may include observation or assessment of:

  • the meaning aspects of language such as understanding and using words and concepts,
  • the way words are put together to form sentences and use of grammar,
  • forming longer pieces of language such as stories,
  • how language is used such as in holding a conversation and solving problems,
  • speech production or way the child uses sounds to form spoken words,
  • written language skills including forming written words, sentences and stories,
  • phonological awareness such as understanding sounds, syllables and rhyme, hearing sounds, using letters, breaking down words into separate sounds and blending sounds together to form words
  • when stuttering is of concern the child’s speech will be assessed during different tasks
  • when eating is of concern your child may be observed eating different types of foods
  • when voice quality is of concern this will be observed in different activities

This information allows the speech pathologist to pinpoint the child’s strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the assessment the results are discussed with the parents. The parents and other relevant people are then provided with a written summary of the assessment outcomes and activities and strategies to assist the child. A range of support options such as individual therapy and/or group programs may then be offered.

What costs are involved?

Public services are usually free but may have long waiting times and eligibility restrictions. Private services have a cost associated with assessment and therapy sessions which may be covered by private health insurance for eligible families. Families may be eligible for rebates through Medicare if a plan is developed with their GP. Speech pathology is available through NDIA funding. More information about costs and rebates is available at http://www.talkingmatters.com.au/funding/funding-options

How can I book an assessment? Booking is easy. Just call (08) 8255 7137 and our friendly receptionist can help you make a time that suits.

Talking Matters provides speech pathology and occupational therapy as well as parent support through our disability coordinator. We have a range of service options including individual therapy in our office at bright, child friendly clinic in Elizabeth Downs as well as school based services and a service in the Barossa. We also do group programs and home or child care visits by negotiation. To find out more browse our website. To find more information and resources for supporting children with special needs follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Whether you live locally and can come in and see us, or are further afield and want to make use of our extensive range of resources, we look forward to sharing our passion for helping kids learn and develop.

Jo Brenecki

Senior speech pathologist

Talking Matters

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