What Does a Speech Therapist Do in a School Environment?

speech therapistMany people are familiar with speech therapists in clinics and hospitals, but have no idea what a speech therapist does in a school environment. Communication problems that are not assessed and treated in childhood often keep adults from achieving success. Helen Keller’s family saw her as delayed and incapable of learning. After the intervention of Anne Sullivan, Ms. Keller thrived and achieved amazing success, even by standards of the unimpaired. As a matter of fact, she was the first blind and deaf person to earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States and she counted many of the influential and brilliant people of her era as friends. What made Helen Keller’s success possible was the ability to communicate, and that skill came as a gift from a speech therapist.

Why Speech Therapy is Important

Communication is a building block upon which we construct other life skills. When communication is impaired, there is little chance for success in the classroom, in making and keeping relationships, in literacy or in learning, according to the website of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. Children without the ability to communicate have difficulty understanding classroom instructions and cannot participate in class discussions. This leads to failure on assignments and to the perception that others may have that the child is “dumb” and cannot learn. This is similar to the problems older people have when their hearing and sight deteriorate. Their worlds shrink so much that others believe them to be senile when, actually, they just cannot respond correctly because of inferior input. Many of the communication problems adults have could be lessened or accommodated if they were discovered and treated in childhood.

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Who Speech Therapists Work With

Speech therapists work with autistic children. They also help those who are developmentally delayed or have traumatic brain injuries. Some of the problems they address are language disabilities, voice impairments, stuttering, and articulation such as when a child has trouble making a certain sound, and even swallowing. They help the hearing impaired and children with cleft lips or palates who must work to produce words.

What Speech Therapists Do in Schools

According to Fed Up With Lunch, a blog by a school speech therapist,  the duties of her job are to prevent communication problems by identifying kids at risk of developing their skills. As much as possible, they keep the children in regular class settings, although sometimes putting them in special groups outside the class works best. They assess student communication skills through tools like tests, then evaluate the results. The findings are used to develop IEPs which the therapist helps to implement. Therapists also assist teams of professionals to develop curriculum that can help build communication skills not only for their clients, but for the school population as a whole. They do research into communication impairments and advocate for programs to help these students. They collaborate with other professionals in care plans and explain the progress to the parents, keep daily notes of their programs and they do all this while working with individual children on their particular problems.

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Speech and language problems have been shown to contribute to crime and poverty. Even if they did nothing more than keep a child from reading a mind-opening book, however, they must be addressed, and that is what a speech therapist does in a school environment.