What Speech-Language Pathologists Do
Speech-language pathologists must be able to listen to and communicate with their patient in order to determine the right course of treatment.
Speech-language pathologists, sometimes called speech therapists, assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or emotional problems.
When diagnosing patients, speech-language pathologists typically do the following:
- Communicate with patients to evaluate their levels of speech or language difficulty
- Determine the extent of communication problems by having a patient complete basic reading and vocalizing tasks or by giving standardized tests
- Identify treatment options
- Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan
When treating patients, speech-language pathologists typically do the following:
- Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
- Teach alternative communication methods, such as sign language, to patients with little or no speech capability
- Work with patients to increase their ability to read and write correctly
- Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
- Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication disorders
Speech-language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech, such as being unable to speak at all or speaking with difficulty, or with rhythm and fluency, such as stuttering. They may work with those who are unable to understand language or with people who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.
Speech-language pathologists must also do various administrative tasks, including keeping good records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, treatment progress, any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan, and, eventually, their final evaluation when the patient finishes the therapy.
Some speech-language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or cleft palate.
In medical facilities, speech-language pathologists work with physicians, social workers, psychologists, and other therapists. For more information, see the profiles on physicians and surgeons, social workers, and psychologists. In schools, they work with teachers, special educators, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities. For more information, see the profiles on preschool, kindergarten and elementary school, middle school, high school, and special education teachers.