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Speech-language pathology is the study of disorders that affect a person's speech, language, cognition, voice, swallowing (dysphagia) and the rehabilitative or corrective treatment of physical and/or cognitive deficits/disorders resulting in difficulty with communication and/or swallowing. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) address people's speech production, vocal production, swallowing difficulties and language needs through speech therapy in a variety of different contexts including schools, hospitals, and through private practice.

Communication includes speech (articulation, intonation, rate, intensity, voice, resonance, fluency), language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics), both receptive and expressive language (including reading and writing), and non-verbal communication such as facial expression, posture and gesture. Swallowing problems managed under speech therapy are problems in the oral and pharyngeal stages of swallowing (not oesophageal).

Depending on the nature and severity of the disorder, common treatments may range from physical strengthening exercises, instructive or repetitive practice and drilling, to the use of audio-visual aids and introduction of strategies to facilitate functional communication. Speech therapy may also include sign language and the use of picture symbols or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (Diehl 2003).

The practice is called:
  • Speech-language pathology (SLP) in the United States and Canada
  • Speech and language therapy (SLTs) in the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. Within the United Kingdom a Speech and Language Therapy team is often referred to by clinicians as the "SALT" team.
  • Speech pathology in Australia
  • Speech-language therapy in New Zealand

Other terms in use include speech therapy, logopaedics and phoniatrics.

Scope of practice

The practice of speech-language pathology involves:

  • Providing prevention, screening, consultation, assessment and diagnosis, treatment, intervention, management, counseling, and follow-up services for disorders of:
    • speech (i.e., phonation, articulation, fluency, resonance, and voice including aeromechanical components of respiration);
    • language (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic/social aspects of communication) including comprehension and expression in oral, written, graphic, and manual modalities; language processing; preliteracy and language-based literacy skills, including phonological awareness;
    • swallowing or other upper aerodigestive functions such as infant feeding and aeromechanical events (evaluation of esophageal function is for the purpose of referral to medical professionals);
    • cognitive aspects of communication (e.g., attention, memory, problem solving, executive functions).
    • sensory awareness related to communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.

  • Providing services to individuals with hearing loss and their families/caregivers (e.g.,auditory training; speechreading; speech and language intervention secondary to hearing loss; visual inspection and listening checks of amplification devices for the purpose of troubleshooting, including verification of appropriate battery voltage).

  • Screening hearing of individuals who can participate in conventional pure-tone air conduction methods, as well as screening for middle ear pathology through screening tympanometry for the purpose of referral of individuals for further evaluation and management.

  • Using instrumentation (e.g., videofluoroscopy, EMG, nasendoscopy, stroboscopy, computer technology) to observe, collect data, and measure parameters of communication and swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions in accordance with the principles of evidence-based practice.

  • Selecting, fitting, and establishing effective use of prosthetic/adaptive devices for communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodynamics functions (e.g., tracheoesophageal prostheses, speaking valves, electrolarynges). This does not include sensory devices used by individuals with hearing loss or other auditory perceptual deficits.

  • Collaborating in the assessment of central auditory processing disorders and providing intervention where there is evidence of speech, language, and/or other cognitive-communication disorders.

  • Educating and counseling individuals, families, co-workers, educators, and other persons in the community regarding acceptance, adaptation, and decisions about communication and swallowing.

  • Advocating for individuals through community awareness, education, and training programs to promote and facilitate access to full participation in communication, including the elimination of societal barriers.

  • Collaborating with and providing referrals and information to audiologists, educators and health professionals as individual needs dictate.

  • Addressing behaviors (e.g. perseverative or disruptive actions) and environments (e.g. seating, positioning for swallowing safety or attention, communication opportunities) that affect communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.

  • Providing services to modify or enhance communication performance (e.g. transgendered voice, care and improvement of the professional voice, personal/ professional communication effectiveness).

  • Recognizing the need to provide and appropriately accommodate diagnostic and treatment services to individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and adjust treatment and assessment services accordingly.

Professional Roles

Speech-language pathologists serve individuals, families, groups, and the general public through a broad range of professional activities. They:
  • Identify, define, and diagnose disorders of human communication and swallowing and assist in localization and diagnosis of diseases and conditions.
  • Provide direct services using a variety of service delivery models to treat and/or address communication, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive concerns.
  • Conduct research related to communication sciences and disorders, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive functions.
  • Educate, supervise, and mentor future speech-language pathologists.
  • Serve as case managers and service delivery coordinators.
  • Administer and manage clinical and academic programs.
  • Educate and provide in-service training to families, caregivers, and other professionals.
  • Participate in outcome measurement activities and use data to guide clinical decision making and determine the effectiveness of services provided in accordance with the principles of evidence-based practice.
  • Train, supervise, and manage speech-language pathology assistants and other support personnel.
  • Promote healthy lifestyle practices for the prevention of communication, hearing, swallowing, or other upper aerodigestive disorders.


In the UK (United Kingdom), SLTs undertake a three to four year degree course devoted entirely to the study of clinical language sciences and communicative disorders. Alternatively, some universities offer a two year master's or a post graduate diploma. These course options qualify them to work in any of the three main clinical areas. The course, which varies according to university, includes intensive study of core theoretical components underpinning competence to practice [Clinical Phonetics], Linguistics, Psychology and Medical science, in addition to the study of a range of communicative disorders in children and adults. Students are also expected to become familiar with a range of policies, processes and procedures relevant to working in different contexts, including health and education. The course is very demanding, and is assessed via coursework, exams and clinical placement. Some universities require students to assess and diagnose an 'unseen client' prior to completing their degree course; all require the completion of a pilot study related to the field of Speech and Language Therapy. Throughout the course, students undertake a variety of clinical placements in which their ability to practise is continually assessed. All courses require students to complete a certain amount of hours of clinical placement, although the structure of placement differs from course to course.

Upon qualifying SLT's enter the profession as a newly-qualified practitioner. The recommended career course is that they then achieve a number of competencies, which qualify them to work autonomously. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the professional body representing Speech and Language Therapists in the UK, provides a framework of competencies which therapists are expected to achieve within 12–18 months of beginning clinical practice. Access to supervision during this period varies from trust to trust and setting to setting, and each individual therapist is expected to provide documentary evidence of competencies achieved to a senior colleague (usually a manager) who determines whether a therapist meets the required criteria for admission to the 'full register'.

Speech and Language Therapists in the UK are required by law to register with the Health Professions Council, a regulatory body governing a range of health professions. The Health Professions Council supports the maintenance of high clinical standards and has the power to discipline members who do not meet the rigorous standards for effective and safe clinical practice, and may 'strike off' or deregister members who fail to maintain these standards.

In the United States, Speech Language Pathology practice is regulated by the laws of the individual states. However, by 2006, the minimal requirements to be a certified SLP member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association [354396] were: a graduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology, which typically entails 2 years of post graduate work; a completed clinical fellowship year, which is generally employment for a year while supervised by a practicing SLP who is also ASHA certified; and passing the Praxis Series examination. The graduate degree work to acquire a master's in Speech-Language Pathology is rigorous and demanding, requiring many hours of supervised clinical practice, and intensive didactic coursework in medical sciences, phonetics, linguistics, phonology, scientific methodology, and other subjects.

Certification by ASHA is noted as carrying one's "C"s. (Certificate of Clinical Competence) It is noted after an SLP's name as: CCC-SLP.

In Australia, Speech Pathologists either undertake a four year undergraduate degree, or a two year master's degree to qualify. These dual pathways are considered by Speech Pathology Australia to produce equally prepared graduates. To be eligible for optional membership of Speech Pathology Australia, students must study in one of the accredited courses outlined on their website. Speech Pathology degrees in Australia vary in curriculum, but always include streams teaching anatomy and physiology, professional practice, communication and swallowing disorders, and often some elementary psychology and audiology. Most include no or minimal elective subjects. All degrees include a heavy clinical component, and many also include a research component in final year. Once graduated, students become fully qualified Speech Pathologists and are eligible for any Level 1 position, without the need for an internship or general examination. Registration is only required in the state of Queenslandmarker, and membership of the professional organization is optional, although it is encouraged.

In South Africa, SLTs must complete a four year honours degree in order to qualify as practicing clinicians. Up until very recently, all South African SLTs were also audiologists (also known as otologists), since most universities offering SLT degrees required students to also study towards becoming audiologists. Since about 2002, this situation has changed and today the majority of SLT degrees are unitary. Degree holders are qualified to practice as SLTs only. Upon graduating, therapists must complete a single year of community service in a government hospital. Once this year (known informally as a 'Zuma year', after the minister of health who first implemented the community service system)is complete, therapists must register as independent practitioners with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)before they can begin offering services. This registration must be renewed every year. Membership of professional bodies such as the South African Speech-Language and Hearing Association is not mandatory.

Methods of assessment

There are separate standardized assessment tools administered for infants, school-aged children, adolescents and adults. Assessments primarily examine the form, content, understanding and use of language, as well as articulation, and phonology. Oral motor and swallowing assessments often require specialized training. These include the use of bedside examination tools and endoscopic/modified barium radiology procedures.

Individuals may be referred to an SLP for any of the following:
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's disease and dementia
  • Cranial nerve damage
  • Progressive neurological conditions (Parkinson, ALS, etc)
  • Developmental delay
  • Learning disability (speaking and listening)
  • Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome
  • Genetic disorders that adversely affect speech, language and/or cognitive development
  • Injuries due to complications at birth
  • Feeding and swallowing concerns
  • Craniofacial anomalies that adversely affect speech, language and/or cognitive development
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Augmentative Alternative Communication needs

There are myriad Speech-Language Assessment tools used for children and adults, depending on the area of need.


Speech and language therapists work with:

In the United States, the cost of speech therapy for a child younger than three years old is likely covered by the state early intervention (zero to three) program.

In Britain, the majority of Speech and Language therapy is funded by the National Health Service (and increasingly, by partners in Education) meaning that initial assessment is available cost-free to all clients at the point of service, regardless of age or presenting problem. The large numbers of referrals contribute to high caseloads and long waiting lists, although this differs from area to area. To meet the needs of many of these clients, it has become necessary for many services to focus heavily on training and consultative models of service provision. The number of hours of direct therapy available to clients varies widely from trust to trust and most areas operate strict guidelines for prioritisation to meet the high clinical demand.

Place of work

Speech and language therapists work in community health centres, hospital wards and outpatient departments, mainstream and special schools, further education colleges, day centers and in their clients' homes. Some now work in courtrooms, prisons and young offenders' institutions.


SLTs/SLPs work closely with others involved with the client, for example difficulties with eating and drinking may also involve an occupational therapist. Speech and language therapists also work closely with the client, parents and caregivers and other professionals, such as audiologists, teachers, nurses, dietitians and doctor.

See also

External links

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