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What is a Speech and Language Therapist?
A Speech and Language Therapist (also known as Speech Therapist, Speech Pathologist)is a professional trained in assessment/evaluation, treatment, teaching methods, and management of communication, language, speech, and feeding, eating, drinking and swallowing disorders.
They have a minimum of a four year degree and many have post graduate diplomas and Masters Degrees. All must be accredited by a professional body for example The American/Australian/ Irish, Speech Language and Hearing Associations.
They work in a number of different settings from hospitals to health clinics, primary care centres and schools.
They often work on a team and with other professionals –for example psychologists, teachers, doctors, nurses and other therapists.
Who do they work with?
They work with adults as well as children but for the purposes of this series of articles I am concentrating on the work with children.
Speech therapists provide services to children with a whole range of disorders-some with very mild delays of speech and language, immature pronunciations or mild dysfluencies or stammers.
At the other end of the spectrum a child may have a substantial disability which requires ongoing team based interventions-such as severe Autism, Physical, Intellectual or Multiple disabilities.
For the purposes of this series of articles I am addressing the more common and milder issues although some of what I am describing is also relevant to services for children with complex needs.
How can they help my child?
The first step is to get a referral to a speech and language therapist.
This can be made by your doctor, nurse, teacher, or other therapists and in many areas by yourself -if you know where to go.
See article on “How do I know if my child needs to see a Speech and Language therapist.”
This is the first step for the therapist. This involves listening and talking to you about your concerns and observation of your child while he plays.
Structured and informal tests will be used to measure your child’s play, speech and language abilities. This is also done through play and age appropriate activities and is usually presented in a fun way so there is no stress or pressure put on the child.
From these observations, measurements and consultations with parents the therapist will recommend a treatment plan to meet the child’s needs.
She will explain your role in the therapy process and may suggest a referral to other professionals that she thinks may also be able to help your child.
Throughout the therapy cycle the clinician will measure your child’s progress on an ongoing basis and continuously adjust or set new goals.
How does Therapy work?.
Speech and Language therapy is a process which is based on carefully selected, key communication or pre-communication skills that can be taught in several different ways.
The therapist will carry out a series of activities designed to meet specific goals. Parents are usually expected to carry out similar activities on a regular basis with the child. They are all designed in such a way as to require a sequence of regular practice. Change does not happen overnight.
Sometimes if he is in school activities are also given to the teacher to incorporate into the child’s school work.
A child may be seen on an individual basis or in a group. In certain
cases he may be seen jointly by the speech therapist and another therapist or psychologist.
Speech and Language Therapists use structured play interactions, pictures, and specialist materials to elicit certain responses.
The therapy programme is usually divided into small steps so that your child can achieve them. He will receive rewards for success and is therefore motivated to continue. The difficulty level of the response required from your child is gradually increased over time. As your child improves the tasks will become harder as he is continuously challenged to improve or expand speech and language skills, until they become age appropriate or he reaches his potential.
The clinician will try to develop a good rapport with your child as children work best in a warm supportive environment. She will also use games, and play activities as part of the therapy process but also as rewards to motivate your child and maintain his interest and stimulate him to learn.
What is the Parents/CarersRole.
Parents/Carers play a key role in this process. As parents you are with the child for many more hours that a therapist ever can. Therefore you will have infinite opportunities to teach and reinforce speech and language skills every day. In order to be able to maximise this you will be given ongoing advice and support as part of the therapy programme.
You may be shown how to respond differently to your child’s communication attempts, how to follow the child’s lead, or how to model speech forms.
You will be asked to contribute by observing the sessions where you may be shown how to help your child practice specific structures that have been taught by the therapist in the session. You will be expected to carry out homework assignments with your child and give honest feedback on how homework assignments went.
Many places offer specific parent training. This training concentrates on teaching parents strategies for developing speech and language skills in a fun way. Parents usually enjoy the training and benefit greatly from the strategies learnt. They are a great opportunity for sharing with and learning from other parents whose children are experiencing similar difficulties.
Where can I learn more?
A very popular training programme run by Speech and language therapists is
-It Takes Two to Talk® - The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children with Language Delays
Target Word® - The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children who are Late Talkers
For more information check the link .
How long are therapy sessions and how often will he have to attend?
Both of these depend on the age of your child, the type and severity of the disorder he presents with and the setting. The length of the sessions will also be influenced by your child’s ability to co-operate and concentrate.
Some areas will provide one session per week for a set number of weeks with regular breaks. Others such as a special language class may provide therapy several days per week for a school year. Research shows that short regular daily sessions are most successful but that is rarely available anywhere I am familiar with -nor is it required where parents use the skills learned to carry it out themselves.
Length of sessions can vary also. Individual sessions usually last between 30 minutes and one hour-group or joint sessions around an hour.
Therapy can take from several weeks to several months to years depending on the disorder.
The key thing to remember is that as parents you can contribute enormously to your child’s speech and language development. It just takes a little know how, patience, commitment and a lot of perseverance.
But at the end of the day remember you are the best therapist he can ever have.