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What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Apr 2, 2015

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a highly trained professional who specializes in evaluating and treating adults and children who have difficulty with speech and/or language.



Often people think of speech and language as the same thing, but they actually have a very different meaning. If a person has trouble with speech, they lack the coordination of the muscles and movements necessary to produce speech sounds.

In contrast, if a person has language difficulties, they struggle with what they hear and see. They may have difficulty finding the right word to use or to use those words in a meaningful way to communicate a message or hold a conversation.

An SLP also evaluates and treats adults and children who have difficulty swallowing food or liquids. An SLP will help identify what part of the swallowing process is making it difficult for the patient to eat (e.g., chewing, manipulating food with the tongue, coordinating mouth and throat structures and muscles, breathing appropriately while eating) and can make helpful recommendations on how to improve those skills.

What do SLP’s treat?

Below is a list of common speech and language disorders with a brief explanation of each:

Speech Disorders:

  • Articulation-the way we say our speech sounds
  • Phonology-the speech patterns we use
  • Apraxia-difficulty planning and coordinating the movements needed to make speech sounds
  • Fluency-stuttering
  • Voice-problems with the way the voice sounds, such as hoarseness

Language Disorders:

  • Receptive language-difficulty understanding language
  • Expressive language-difficulty using language
  • Pragmatic language-social communication; the way we speak to each other

Other Disorders:

  • Swallowing/Feeding Disorders (dysphagia)-difficulty chewing and/or swallowing
  • Cognitive communication disorder - Any aspect of communication that is affected by the disruption of cognition including listening, speaking, gesturing, reading, and writing. This also includes cognitive processes such as memory, attention, perception, organization, problem-solving, and executive functions.

What should I expect for my first appointment?

The first visit to an SLP includes an evaluation of the problem, usually along with standardized testing. This allows the SLP to compare the patient to others that are not experiencing difficulties with their speech and/or language. The SLP will also ask questions regarding medical and/or developmental history. Based upon the history and the findings of the evaluation, the SLP will customize a treatment plan based on the patient’s individualized needs.

There are many specialized techniques at the SLP’s disposal and they will work with you to find a treatment that will be most beneficial to the individual patient.

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Topics: Specialists