I initially came across the idea of speech and language therapy as a career through my university careers office as I was coming to the end of my degree in English. It wasn’t a profession I knew much about, and, as I read, I became more and more excited about the idea of it, as it combined my two main interests so perfectly – language and working with children. I went to see a couple of speech and language therapists at work, and as far as I was concerned my future career path was set – this was exactly what I wanted to do. (The only problem was that I now realised that I had done the wrong degree and needed to go back to uni!).
When you become immersed in what you do day to day, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that to many people, discovering the existence of speech and language therapy can be as much of a revelation as it was to me back then. And even those who do know often have little idea what sorts of things speech and language therapists can help with. When I tell people that I’m a speech and language therapist, people often assume that I do elocution, or they think of The Kings Speech!
The quickest answer to who we work with is anyone with a difficulty with communication or swallowing. Wait a minute… Swallowing? What does that have to do with speech?! We’ll come back to that in a minute!
Speech and language therapists (SLTs in the UK or SLPs in many other countries) work with people of all ages. The majority of therapists will specialise with one particular age range – either children or adults, and they may specialise further within that. Some therapists work with people of all ages throughout their career.
Speech and language therapists work in a variety of settings; hospital wards, outpatients, community clinics, nurseries, schools, care homes, people’s own homes, prisons, all sorts of places! And as for the difficulties we work with, here are a few. There are so many that I am bound to miss some out
- Children who are slow to start talking
- People (especially children) with unclear speech
- Children born with cleft palates
- People who have had a stroke which has affected communication or swallowing skills
- People with degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- People who have suffered from traumatic brain injury
- People who stammer
People of all ages with
- Learning difficulties
- Autistic Spectrum Disorders
- Hearing impairments
- Difficulty understanding what is said to them
- Difficulty putting sentences together
- Word finding difficulties
- Physical disabilities
- Feeding and swallowing difficulties
- Social skills difficulties ( for example, difficutlty with eye contact, facial expressions and understanding social situations)
- Difficulty with attention and listening
- Voice problems
Why swallowing? Well, since speech and eating and drinking involve many of the same muscles, speech and language therapists often have a lot of knowledge in this area, and have become a vital part of the team involved in dealing with feeding difficulties in both adults and children. Sometimes, speech and feeding difficulties occur in the same people, as the same muscles are involved. In the UK at least, dysphagia (swallowing work) requires a separate postgraduate qualification, so it’s something not all therapists do, and especially among therapists who work with children it tends to be a specialist area.
I love the variety in my job and the range of things that I do. I only work with children, but each one is different, and I love putting the pieces of the jigsaw together to work out what is causing the difficulty and what is going to work best for each individual child and their family!
What do you think? Were there are any surprises here about what speech and lanuguage therapists do?