“Oh, you are a speech therapist… are you a teacher?” That is what most of us, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) hear on a day-to-day basis. Yes, we do help the individual to learn how to communicate effectively up to their abilities. However, we do not teach the regular subjects we learn at school. That is, SLPs help children and adults to maximise their communication abilities.
I can recall a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine. He commenced his conversation by asking me:
- So, what is your work?
- I am a speech therapist!
- You work with children who stutter!
- Yes, of course I do, but there is much more than that, which is why I listed the below:
1) Speech and Language are not the same
We are widely known worldwide as ‘speech therapists’. Personally, I do not like the term because speech and language are not the same thing. As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association described the terms, “Speech is how we say sounds and words. Language refers to the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.”
For example if a 4-year-old is watching Bugs Bunny and shouts ‘Wun wabbit, wun!’ when he sees the bad guy trying to shoot Bugs Bunny, then that infant has a speech difficulty, not a language difficulty. On the other hand, if the child says ‘Bunny no run’ or does not understand what you or the cartoon characters say, that child has a language difficulty.
2) We are not nurses or teachers
Our job is to help people gain or regain the abilities to communicate in a way or another. We work with people who have a voice disorder, stuttering, unintelligible speech, limited language skills, limited vocabulary and the list goes on.
An SLP assesses and treats swallowing disorders which strike a lot of the aging population especially after suffering from neurological damage such as stroke, head injury, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. People with dysphagia (swallowing disorders), cannot eat properly and are at a high risk of developing a chest infection that can be fatal. This happens because food and liquids enter the windpipe, instead of going down into the stomach.
3) SLPs only work with children
SLPs work with the whole spectrum of ages – from newborns to the elderly. We work in a number of different settings, such as schools, clinics, acute hospitals and elderly homes. Some of us also dedicate their life researching and help this profession to grow and thus offer a clearer insight into the management and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders. SLPs educate the public about how to prevent disorders, especially in children. Prevention is our main goal and with the right guidance, communication disorders can be detected early and have a greater chance of resolving themselves.
4) We are not child entertainers
“Great job, Ben! Now, let’s say bye to Mr Potatohead, and play with some blocks.” Many think our profession is to play, play and play. Well, that is not true. Children love toys, so we use them to help children pay attention and learn. For example, a doll with detachable body parts can be used to teach body parts. If a child has difficulty producing the ‘ch’ sound, the SLP can use a toy train and goes something like this, ‘What sound does the train make?’ and the child tries to say ‘choo choo’.
Given all this, free playtime is also important for language development, so why not have some fun and learn!
5) We diagnose and treat beyond speech and language difficulties
From treating swallowing disorders, teaching children and young adults social skills and pre-literacy skills (which are the building blocks of reading and writing), speech-language pathology is a vast field of health, which helps countless of people around the world to optimize their quality of life.
Speech-Language Pathology is more than a job but it is a vocation and a fulfilling career.
About the author:
Christian Farrugia is a speech and language pathologist (SLP) located in Malta. He is also the founder of Speech-Language Therapy Malta which provides therapy for children, young adults and the elderly. The therapy provided is individualized and tailor-made according to the patient’s needs.