The Speech Therapy
Speech Therapy focuses on receptive language, or the ability to understand words spoken to you, and expressive language, or the ability to use words to express yourself. It also deals with the mechanics of producing words, such as articulation, pitch, fluency, and volume. Adults may need speech therapy after a stroke or traumatic accident that changes their ability to use language; for children, it generally involves pursuing milestones that have been delayed. Some children only need help with language, others have the most problems with the mechanics of speech, and some need every kind of speech help there is. The professional in charge of your child’s speech therapy — called a speech-language pathologist, speech therapist, speech teacher, or whatever combination of these words your school district pastes together — will work to find fun activities to strengthen your child in areas of weakness. For mechanics, this might involve exercises to strengthen the tongue and lips, such as blowing on whistles or licking up Cheerios. For language, this might involve games to stimulate word retrieval, comprehension or conversation. A speech therapist is a specialist with training in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of speech, voice, and language disorders who works with people, unable to make speech sounds or cannot make them clearly. They also work with people who stutter, have fluency and rhythm problems, inappropriate pitch, or harsh voice and speech quality problems. The most widespread and obvious speech disorder is stuttering, often caused by anxiety. The speech therapist sets up a program of speech exercises to reduce the disability, and if necessary, enlists the aid of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Other disorders may result from hearing loss, stroke, cerebral palsy, mental disability, or brain injury. Speech therapists keep careful records on the evaluation and progress of patients, often developing and implementing individualized treatment programs based on the input of physicians, psychiatric social workers, and psychologists. In fact, because speech disorders are usually related to neurological, psychological, and physical conditions, speech therapists must be able to work as a member of a team which may include other healthcare specialists such as a neurologist and psychiatrist. An important part of a speech therapist’s work is the counseling and support of individuals and families on speech disorders and on how to cope with the stress associated with these problems. Therapists also work with families on treatment techniques to use at home and on how to modify behavior that impedes communication. Although a speech therapist’s job is not physically demanding, it does require patience and compassion, as progress may be slow and halting. Speech therapy is a painstaking process, but it can be as rewarding as it is frustrating. Tremendous attention to detail and sharp focus are necessary in the evaluation of the patient’s progress. Overall, speech therapists must be able to understand and empathize with the emotional strains and stresses that such problems bring, both from the patient’s and family member’s point of view. Speech therapists, like other health care professionals, must carefully diagnose problems and if necessary call upon the advice of other health specialists. The ability to distinguish the need for the professional input of specialists is critical to the therapist’s success. Therapists must also monitor the progress of patients, eliminate certain programs, and introduce others that are more effective. The ability to make informed decisions that may define the success and failure of any individual program is a skill that can only come with years of experience. 1. Speech and language therapists usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team, alongside other health professionals such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They may also liaise with professionals in education and the social services. Tasks typically involve: • identifying children’s developmental speech and communication difficulties/disorders; • assessing and treating swallowing and communication difficulties arising from a variety of causes, e.g. congenital problems (such as cleft palate) or acquired disorders after a stroke or injury; • devising, implementing and revising relevant treatment programmes; • advising carers on implementing treatment programmes and training other professionals in therapy delivery; • assessing communication environments; • monitoring and evaluating clients’ progress; • working with clients on a one-to-one basis, and in groups, to deliver therapy; • writing and maintaining confidential client case notes and reports, as well as information for clients, carers and other professionals; • managing a caseload taking account of priority cases, waiting lists, successful outcomes, referral and discharge of service users; • working with others to improve the effectiveness of service delivery.