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What does a Speech Pathologist Do?

A speech pathologist provides therapeutic services for individuals who experience disorders with oral-motor reflexes, speech production or language processing. Candidates usually complete undergraduate training in communication sciences prior to pursuing a master’s degree from accredited school programs. Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) professionals must also complete a year of supervised clinical experience to obtain certification and pass the PRAXIS exam in speech pathology to obtain a license. Once these credentials are in place, an SLP can begin a professional career working in a variety of educational and medical settings.

Clients that a Speech Pathologist Serves

Communication disorders occur across all stages of life. They can result from genetic, neurological, developmental, pathological, acquired or traumatic conditions that affect a person’s speech, language or oral-motor abilities. An SLP addresses clients with a broad range of communication disorders:

  • Infants and children with insufficient oral-motor skills or delayed onset of speech and language
  • School-age students with receptive and expressive language disorders
  • Clients with articulation, fluency or voice disorders
  • Senior citizens with memory loss or swallowing problems
  • Individuals with auditory processing or hearing impairments
  • People with cognitive impairments
  • Patients who experience stroke or brain injuries
  • Clients with poor social skills or pragmatic language deficits

Job Responsibilities

An SLP organizes information, makes analytical decisions, and communicates effectively in verbal and written language. Primary job tasks include using appropriate assessment tools, interpreting test results, creating and conducting therapy interventions, attending staff meetings and keeping written logs about therapeutic progress. Speech-language pathologists also consult with family members, caregivers and teachers about the best ways to reinforce the use of appropriate techniques with the client to maintain motor functions or communication skills in daily interactions. Following consultations, speech-language pathologists use information gathered to revise treatment plans.

Diagnostic Services

SLP professionals use a variety of standardized and informal assessments to evaluate the nature and degree of oral-motor problems or communication impairments a client exhibits. Test results guide development of treatment plans. Evaluations assess swallowing reflexes, motor reflexes related to feeding and speech production, vocalization and articulation abilities, speech fluency, receptive and expressive language skills, auditory acuity and processing, cognitive memory, and basic reading and writing tasks.

Treatment Plans

Depending on diagnostic results, services may be provided several times per week to start and reduced as progress is made. Treatment plans can be conducted in individual or group therapy sessions based on what benefits the client. Therapy goals may be to strengthen muscles used in speech and swallowing, to model appropriate use of sounds, to improve vocal quality, to explore alternative communication modes like sign language, to improve vocabulary and word usage through play therapy, to help students develop reading and writing skills, or to devise activities to improve memory and word retrieval skills.

Speech-language therapy can be provided in home settings, schools, hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, senior care facilities and rehabilitation centers. This dynamic career also affords qualified candidates many opportunities for career success. For those interested in being part of a helping profession, becoming a speech pathologist can develop into a meaningful career that connects people with the world around them.