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What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?
A speech pathologist (SP), or speech-language pathologist (SLP), is a trained professional who evaluates and treats patients with speech, language, and other communication impairments. Individuals of all ages rely on the work of a speech pathologist to help them articulate more clearly, and the families of the patients often look to the SP for guidance on how to best assist their loved one. This is a multifaceted career, requiring a degree in speech pathology as well as certification.
The ability to easily communicate is something we may take for granted, and an SP must have more than just the technical skill set to be able to connect with and improve their patients’ well-being. If you’re interested in becoming a speech pathologist, it’s important to know the details of the job like what to expect, how to prepare, and the process involved in assessing a patient’s condition. Below you’ll find a detailed description that hopefully adds fuel to your enthusiasm for the profession, and gives you greater knowledge of the speech-language pathology field.
A Professional Overview
It’s always good to research and have a solid understanding of a profession before you take the steps necessary to enter it. Tuition is expensive, and you don’t want to waste time or money earning a degree that won’t serve you in the long-run. O*Net OnLine, The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and ASHA are fantastic resources for students interested in learning more about this profession, and are where we have gathered our data from.
As an aspiring SP, you may know that there are a variety of sub-fields of speech pathology. You could work with kids or adults, in a hospital, private practice, or an elementary school, or only treat patients with specific kinds of communication disorders and impairments like cleft palates or swallowing issues – the possibilities are practically endless. No matter where you work or who you work with, these are the tasks most commonly performed by SPs:
- Administer and Evaluate Testing: You’ll need to be able to determine the scope of your patient’s communication abilities using special instruments, a barium swallow test, and/or written, oral, or auditory testing. Once you have administered the test(s), your evaluation of their results will give you a clearer picture on what can be done to help them improve.
- Create a Treatment Plan and Document Progress: Based on the testing you will have administered and evaluated, you will determine the best course of action for your patient. This will include if you will have them perform any exercises and how often, how often and for how long they will see you, if they will need any assistive devices, and if you will have them see concurrent to another specialist(s). By documenting how they are or are not progressing will help you evaluate the success of your treatment plan.
- Document Patient Profile: It is vital that you maintain proper records of your patient’s family and medical history including results and evaluations of testing received (both prior to seeing you and with you), treatment plan(s), how they are progressing, and what other specialists they may have seen and treatments received. This is important for insurance purposes, to be able to evaluate which therapies work, and provides useful information to other professionals that you may need to collaborate with or that your patient may see independently in the future.
- Educate Patients and Family Members: For the entire time that your patient is seeing you, you will need to instruct your patients on how to do exercises at home (if needed), and give them feedback and tips on how they can continue to improve their communication skills. Their families are their support system, making it essential that they too are involved. You can help your patients and their families learn more about their communication impairment, and teach families communication techniques or strategies to avoid misunderstandings.
- Collaborate with Other Professionals: In addition to working with the patient’s families, you may also need to work with other professionals. This could include educators at the patient’s school to develop the best learning environment, and audiologist for additional hearing evaluation and testing, a psychologist to help them cope with their situation, a neurologist if they had a stroke or brain injury, and a variety of other professionals that could help you and your patient improve their life.
A speech pathologist must also feel comfortable using a variety of medical instruments and tools. These can include adaptive communication switches for the physically disabled, sound measuring apparatuses, stroboscopes to measure voice irregularities, and voice synthesizers such as an electrolarynx for the physically disabled. Additionally, various types of medical and scientific computer software are used to record, diagnose, and analyze speech patterns in patients.
Of course your career as an SLP will require a technical knowledge of communication science disorders (CSD), but there are plenty of other skills that SLPs use everyday. Based off of O*Net OnLine’s data, the following skills are commonly used by SPs:
- Social Perceptiveness: The reason why many degree programs for speech pathology include courses in psychology is because you will need to be aware of how your patient reacts to you and the treatments and therapies they undergo. If they are resisting or struggling, it is important to try to understand why and how so that you can determine what else you can do to help.
- Time Management: Practicing this skill can allow you to have better control over your own schedule, and avoid the possibility of overwhelming yourself by taking on too many patients at one time. This will also help when creating a timeline of expected outcomes for your patient’s treatment plan.
- Active Listening: Your patients will have trouble communicating, that is why they are coming to see you. It is important to have patience while listening to your patients and their families, and to give them your full attention when they are telling you about what they may struggle with or what therapies are or are not working. When your patients and their families talk or ask questions, remember to not cut them off or talk down to them.
- Writing and Speaking: There is a great deal of writing involved in this profession, and being able to create concise, accurate, and professional documents can help you stay efficient at your job. Your patients may have trouble hearing or comprehending speech and language. Therefore it is important that you are able to speak clearly and at a slow to moderate pace so that your patients can understand you.
- Learning Strategies: As previously mentioned, you will be creating treatment plans for your patients, which is why many speech pathology degree programs also require courses in education. Being able to create these plans and educate your patients and their families so that your plan may be implemented requires a knowledge of various teaching and learning styles.
- Critical Thinking: First and foremost, your patients are people. While there may be a textbook way to treat their communication disorder, other factors like their cultural and religious background or access to resources may require you to think out of the box in order to help them more effectively.
- Complex Problem Solving: This is similar to critical thinking skills because complex problem solving skills can also mean that you need to do something a little different in order to help a patient. Also, this skill can especially be used for patients with communication disorders caused by a stroke, brain injury, or a disease like Parkinson’s, who may not respond to your treatment plan the way you had hoped or expected.
Types of Speech and Language Disorders
As an SLP, you can evaluate, diagnose, and treat a variety of communication disorders, or choose to specialize in just one or several of them. Below you’ll find a list of reasons why children and adults may need to see an SLP:
- Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
- Cerebral Palsy
- Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate
- Developmental Delay
- Feeding Disorders
- Hearing Loss
- Phonological Disorders
- Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia)
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Voice Disorders
The job of a speech pathologist is an important one, and with the right training and education, you can help people overcome a variety of communication impairments and disorders. Look around our website and checkout our guide, Best Websites for Speech Language Pathologists, both of which have a ton of great resources to help you learn more about speech pathology.