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What do SLPs do Exactly?

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

A big misconception about Speech Language Pathologists aka SLPs is that we only work on sounds, such as lisps. The truth is that SLPs are involved in many different areas and across many settings. You can see SLPs in the medical setting or in the schools. You'll see them working with children or with adults. There are so many ways that SLPs work in your community that you might not even know about!

The illustration below shows all the settings where you can see SLPs.

In the school setting is where most people hear about SLPs aka "speech teachers" aka "speech therapists" aka "that speech lady" as my favorite school psychologist buddy used to call me, but SLPs can see children in hospitals and in private practices as well. SLPs can work with children of all ages and you will see SLPs evaluate, diagnosis and treat children in a range of areas including:

  • Speech: Articulation/Phonology

  • Language: Expressive/Receptive

  • Fluency/Stuttering

  • Voice

  • Auditory Processing disorders

  • Pragmatic disorders

  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech

  • Feeding/Swallowing

There are also other areas where communication can be affected:

  • Developmental delay

  • English language learners (or ELL)

  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Cochlear Implants

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD)

  • Learning Disorders/Learning Disabilities

  • Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate

  • Down syndrome

  • Neurological Disorders such as Cerebral Palsy

What SLPs do can also go beyond diagnosing and treating all the areas above. And when personally describing what I do, I love to use this phrase:

This phrase is very near and dear to my heart because it is all about giving someone a voice - giving them the ability to "talk back". There are actually so many communication skills that children need to respond or "talk back". A child needs sufficient understanding of language to understand what the parent or teacher is saying to tell them. They also need proper vocabulary and sentence structure to allow them to form a response. Although having kids "talk back" is not typically something many parents wish they had, for some it can mean a lot.

I had one child that when I started working with him at the beginning of the year he was completely non-verbal. He didn't engage with others and he didn't use gestures to communicate. Towards the end of the year, he had made so many gains in speech therapy and in other areas that he was communicating using single words and was finally engaging with adults and his peers. It was so amazing to see! I'll never forget what his mom said during a meeting at the end of the school year. She was telling us a story about something he did that week and that he was starting to get a bit of an "attitude". She would tell him to do things and he would respond "no" and shake his head. What I love about this story is that she wasn't complaining that he was a behavior problem. She was SO excited that he was now able to communicate and actually say the word "no". It was a big moment for her and I think really demonstrates the meaning behind this phrase.

I'm sure some of you are still thinking: "Okay, very cool... So... what do you do?" I hear ya! Because there are so many areas that we work in, when people ask what we do as speech therapists aka supposedly communication experts, we want to give you all the information we have. And it can be a lot and not really help others know what we really do. I've had that experience with my family. God love 'em but I still think they aren't quite sure what I do! Honestly, a lot of what I do might look like playing games or like I'm just playing with your child. What I'm actually doing is using strategies and evidenced-based therapy techniques to target specific communication skills whether it be working on a sound or targeting one-word phrases. The game is to engage your child in the learning of the skill. My job is really to try to help your child communicate with you and with others. I work directly with them on the specific communication skills that they need in order to improve their ability to communicate in school and at home, so that they can better make relationships with you and make friendships. My job is also to be an advocate for you and your child. Having difficult communicating can be frustrating - for both of you! I'm here as a listener, a resource and a cheerleader for you and your child. I'm here to answer any questions and offer any support that helps you get closer to the goal - for your child to communicate and to "talk back"

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