A "Speech Pathologist"....... what is that?

I just wanted to clear up a few things. Yes we look after people who stutter, but no I can't help you after you've had a few drinks and I generally don't give elocution lessons either! These are some of the very common misconceptions about speech pathologists that I have been faced with on many occasions. To be honest, before I started my degree, I didn't understand the scope of practice that a speech pathologist can work within either. So give me a few minutes of your time and I'll explain.

Firstly, a speech pathologist can also be called a speech therapist, speech and language therapist (in the UK), speech and language pathologist (USA) or a speechie (our Australian slang version).

How a 'speechie' is made......

Speech pathologists in Australia will graduate with a 4 year Bachelor degree or a 2 year Masters degree in Speech Pathology. Both courses are intense, very challenging and take a lot of time to complete. We learn about basic anatomy, physiology, neuroanatomy (anatomy of the brain, spinal cord and associated structures), psychology and statistics, as well as many other subjects more specific to speech pathology practice. We complete practical subjects, which involve us treating real life patients, from our 2nd year at university (supervised and guided by some amazing clinical educators of course). So what I'm trying to say is that we work really hard to get where we are and we have a lot of background knowledge before we get our first job. In fact, as a new graduate, we are fully qualified to start independently seeing clients straight away. Often new grads are full of enthusiasm and gusto, as well as being up to date with the latest theories, research and techniques. So if you ever find out you're seeing one, consider yourself lucky!

What do speech pathologists do?

According to the Speech Pathology Australia website, "Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice." There you go, easy, right? Let me explain it in a little more detail for you.

· Speech pathologists see people of all ages. Anywhere from 0-100+ years old.

· We see people who have communication or swallowing impairments as a result of many different things, including but not limited to, developmental delay, Parkinson's Disease, head and neck cancer, cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, stroke, hearing loss, dementia and the list goes on and on.

· We have the skills to assess people to see what level they are able to achieve at, and to find out what goals we might need to work on.

· We have the skills to diagnose as well as treat communication and many swallowing disorders.

Ok, that's nice, but isn't speech just the way that you say words and sounds? What are all of these other things and why are you talking about them? Great questions! Let's break down these areas that speech pathologists can treat.

1. Speaking - the way that speech sounds are used, forming sentences, expressing stories, talking about your day

2. Listening/understanding language - hearing and processing speech sounds, following instructions, understanding questions, humour, idioms

3. Reading/writing - the ability to identify sounds and letters, blend them into words, and make sense of the words and sentences written on the page, as well as the ability to write down the letters required to make up the sounds of a word (and being able to write sentences and paragraphs)

4. Social skills - how we interact with each other, being able to start, follow and end conversations, making friends, turn taking, appropriate eye contact and behaviours

5. Stuttering - repetition of sounds, syllables, words, phrases

6. Voice - the quality of your voice, can be described as hoarse, husky, breathy, weak, rough

7. Swallowing / dysphagia - the ability to chew and swallow

You may ask why a speech pathologist covers so many areas. The reason is because the muscles and parts of the brain that control these areas are the same. For example, you use the same muscles to speak as you do to swallow.

I hope this information has helped you gain a slightly better understanding of what a speech pathologist is and does. If you or someone you know is having trouble with any of the following, or you have any questions relating to speech pathology, please feel free to contact us on 0401 195 038. We will be happy to help in any way we can.

The areas that speech pathologist can work on include:

- Speaking

- Listening / understanding

- Reading/writing

- Social sklils

- Stuttering

- Voice

- Swallowing / dysphagia

Please share this with friends and family, and like our Facebook page to see future posts. There will be more posts coming soon about the early years of language development, what to expect and some fun ideas to encourage language development within your everyday life.

Thanks for reading.

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