What does a Speech Therapist do?

Speech Therapist
What does a Speech Therapist do?

This is a good question! For starters, the title is misleading – Speech Therapists do more than provide therapy for “speech”. A more apt term might be “communication therapist” but even then, there are areas of the profession that are excluded.

Speech Therapists provide assessment and therapy in the areas of speech, language, fluency, literacy, social communication, feeding and swallowing. Any skill that relies on using the oral mechanism e.g. the lips, tongue, jaw, facial muscles, esophagus etc. is supported by a Speech Therapist.

Oftentimes, a Speech Therapists role will work hand in hand with other allied health therapists including Occupational Therapists and ABA therapists.

Below is a list of responsibilities a Speech Therapist might have:

  • Help clients to speak clearly
  • Help clients to use language correctly e.g. putting words and sentences together
  • Help clients understand what is said to them
  • Help clients improve their social skills e.g. eye contact, turn taking, making friends and social appropriateness.
  • Help clients speak “smoothly” or without a stutter
  • Help clients to read, write or spell
  • Help clients tell stories or recount information
  • Help clients to eat a variety of foods
  • Help clients to swallow safely
  • Help clients with a voice disorder e.g. due to nodules
  • Help professional voice users who might want to speak with a reduced accent
  • Help clients who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease or Dementia
  • Help clients to rehabilitate after a stroke
  • Help clients on the Autism Spectrum

When should you be concerned?

The question of if and when to seek professional help for your child’s speech or language can be a tricky one.  Is he or she just late blooming or is there something else at play?

Parents are experts at communicating with their children. They inherently understand a hungry cry from a tired cry and grow to understand more and more about how he or she communicates as the months fly by. Armed with this knowledge, most parents will begin to compare their child’s communication to their peers and siblings to build an impression about whether they are developing at a “normal” rate.

This is an important step for parents and the most common reason why children initially visit a Speech Therapist, however it is important to remember that “Although the stages that children pass through in the development of speech and language are very consistent, the exact age when they hit these milestones varies a lot” (Hanen, 2016).

The following information about developmental norms, describes the age when most children will accomplish various communicative skills, and can help you to determine whether you should be concerned.

If you are concerned, it is important that you don’t assume that he or she is just developing at a slow pace. While this may be the case, early detection leads to early treatment and can provide the best outcome for the child.

Seeking professional help can provide piece of mind, ensure that your child’s communication development is monitored, provide you with strategies to support their speech and language development and of course, if necessary, provide timely therapy for your child’s communication.

The information below has been taken with thanks from Kidshealth.org

Before 12 Months
It’s important for kids this age to be watched for signs that they’re using their voices to relate to their environment. Cooing and babbling are early stages of speech development. As babies get older (often around 9 months), they begin to string sounds together, incorporate the different tones of speech, and say words like “mama” and “dada” (without really understanding what those words mean).

Before 12 months of age, babies also should be attentive to sound and begin to recognize names of common objects (bottle, binky, etc.). Babies who watch intently but don’t react to sound may be showing signs of hearing loss.

By 12 to 15 Months
Kids this age should have a wide range of speech sounds in their babbling (like p, b, m, d, or n), begin to imitate and approximate sounds and words modeled by family members, and typically say one or more words (not including “mama” and “dada”) spontaneously. Nouns usually come first, like “baby” and “ball.” Your child also should be able to understand and follow simple one-step directions (“Please give me the toy,” etc.).

From 18 to 24 Months
Though there is a lot of variability, most toddlers are saying about 20 words by 18 months and 50 or more words by the time they turn 2. By age 2, kids are starting to combine two words to make simple sentences, such as “baby crying” or “Daddy big.” A 2-year-old should be able to identify common objects (in person and in pictures), points to eyes, ears, or nose when asked, and follow two-step commands (“Please pick up the toy and give it to me,” for example).

From 2 to 3 Years
Parents often see huge gains in their child’s speech. Your toddler’s vocabulary should increase (to too many words to count) and he or she should routinely combine three or more words into sentences.

Comprehension also should increase — by 3 years of age, a child should begin to understand what it means to “put it on the table” or “put it under the bed.” Your child also should begin to identify colors and comprehend descriptive concepts (big versus little, for example).