What do you think of when hearing the term “speech-language therapy”? Children who lisp, people who stutter, or children who cannot produce the ‘r’ sound? Yes, Speech-language therapists (SLTs) treat all of these as well as a wide range of other difficulties related to speech, language, hearing and swallowing.
Speech-language therapists are involved in the assessment and treatment of the following;
Early communication intervention for children (0-3 years old)
Babies start to communicate from the day they are born and any precursors or difficulties during pregnancy, birth or the early developmental years can cause a future delay in communication development. Babies and toddlers are assessed using check lists and parent questionnaires to determine if their communication development is age appropriate. If any delay is indicated after assessment, therapy should start immediately. It mostly involves play based techniques and lots of parent guidance and training.
Language and literacy intervention for pre-school and school aged children
Literacy is seen as mostly the domain of the teaching profession; however, SLTs are experts in oral and written language, both of which are linked to language-literacy development. Recent research indicates that children with language difficulties are at risk of developing reading difficulties due to poor phonological processing abilities, inadequate semantic word and world knowledge, and impaired oral and reading comprehension skills.
Sucking and swallowing therapy for infants
When babies are born prematurely, they sometimes struggle with latching on to their mothers’ breasts due to poor sucking strength. They may also sometimes suffer from pediatric dysphagia. These cases are treated using specialized training.
Feeding therapy for children
Some children are labeled as fussy eaters and mostly physicians try the wait-and-see approach or family members relay that it is “just a phase”. If a child is struggling with progressing from one texture to the next, SLT’s can assist if there are oral-motor issues. In this area they work closely with occupational therapists that are trained in sensory integration.
Swallowing therapy for adults
After suffering a brain injury like a stroke or closed head injury, some patients may experience difficulties with swallowing. This may also occur in persons with degenerative neurological disorders such as Gullium Barre, Multiple Sclerosis and even Alzheimer’s disease. Speech therapists are uniquely trained to assess, diagnose and treat these patients. Treatment mostly consists of strengthening the muscles, implementing postures to facilitate safe swallowing, and making adaptations to patients’ diets.
The type of therapy probably most associated with speech therapy is articulation therapy. This is where SLT’s identify speech errors that individuals make and teach then how to say the correct sound. This applies to individuals of all ages and is not exclusive to children. This type of therapy involves a lot of auditory and tactile training to teach correct placement of sounds.
If you have watched The King’s Speech, then you might have a good idea of the type of therapy techniques used to treat those who stutter. Stuttering can also be caused by emotional components and usually a stutter will get worse if a person who stutters are nervous or placed under a lot of stress. Therefore many of the techniques involve breathing or relaxing exercises.
Many occupations these days require you to be able to speak for long hours. This may cause voice problems due to overuse or misuse of the vocal folds. Voice problems may also be caused by organic factors such as growths on the vocal folds, laryngitis, vocal fold paralysis etc. It is of utmost importance to identify the reason for the voice problem and to then treat the problem accordingly. Many people don’t know that voice problems can also be caused by emotional or psychological factors.
Speech and language therapy for persons who suffer from neurological difficulties
After suffering a brain injury like a stroke, many patients have difficulties with their speech or language. Speech problems in this case are known as dysarthria or apraxia and basically presents as unclear or slurred speech. Problems with language after brain injury usually presents in the form of difficulty to understand and use their first language. They struggle to express themselves verbally or even to follow basic instructions. In less severe cases, patients experience difficulty with naming of objects or pictures.
Parents are often unsure at what age a child needs to be taken to an SLT. When it comes to your child, YOU are the expert, and if you are concerned, it is worth seeking advice immediately. The SLT will be able to determine if intervention is indicated or not.
Source: Corli Hanekom, Speech and Language Therapist