What Is a Speech Therapist and when to Consult One for Your Child?
As the month of May comes to a close, so does the month of Better Speech and Hearing. This is the perfect time to blog about the role a speech therapist plays in many children's lives. When you hear speech therapist, you likely think of someone who works in the schools and corrects children's lisps and /r/ sounds. This only represents one of the many skills of a speech therapist.
The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) states that "speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults." Speech-language pathologist (SLP) is the actual term, but often SLPs are referred to as speech therapists or speech teachers (in the schools - they would prefer to be addressed as speech therapist or speech-language pathologist).
The schooling required for an SLP is often quite extensive. It consists of a four-year bachelors degree in the area of science of communication disorders or speech pathology. In addition to the courses, this usually consists of many hours of observation in a variety of settings (hospitals, schools, rehabs, outpatient centers, private practices, nursing homes, etc.). Once a bachelor of arts or sciences is obtained, a master's degree is required. This master's degree consists of at least 60 credit hours and is a full-time program, as many internships and one final externship is expected (in other words, working for free). During the final semester of graduate school, the students take the Praxis; or the national boards for speech pathology. After the clinical fellowship year (CFY) - a year of working alongside a seasoned SLP, one can then search for a job.
An SLP sees babies, toddlers, and children for a multitude of reasons. They most often see babies if the baby is having feeding difficulty. The muscles one uses for speaking are the same muscles used in swallowing (this is why swallowing disorders fall under the speech pathology umbrella). Swallowing disorders and feeding aversions make up a large portion of the caseload in private practice. Other reasons a child may receive speech therapy include difficulty understanding language, hearing language, and expressing language. A language disorder can occur in combination with other diagnoses or by itself.
When should you consult a speech-language pathologist? If your child is not meeting their language developmental milestones, your pediatrician should recommend a speech-Ianguage pathology consult. If your baby is having some feeding difficulty or your toddler is having some aversions to tastes or textures, you should also consult a speech-language pathologist.
For more information regarding developmental milestones, please check the Our First Year blog posts. And remember, the developmental milestones are a guideline, each child develops on their own timeline. It is best to consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns regarding your child's development.
Working on your child's speech and language skills is easy...it's all in the bag!