What Is Speech Therapy?


Whether it be talking with co-workers around the water cooler, saying “I love you” to your spouse, sharing a joke with your neighbor, texting your brother, or sending an email to your boss, people love to communicate, it’s what we do.  Communication, in all its forms, is what creates and maintains the bonds and relationships in our lives, and the ability to communicate is what defines us as being human.


Communication can be divided into three main categories: comprehension, expression, and production.  Comprehension or receptive language is the ability to receive a message from someone and understand the meaning of that message whether it be spoken, written, or via gestures such as American Sign Language (ASL). Expression or expressive language is the ability to send a meaningful message to someone verbally, in writing, or by using gestures.  An additional goal of expressive language is that it is socially appropriate, which means knowing what and how to say something in a given circumstance. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) refer to the social part of language as pragmatic language. Production is how the message is created.  With speech, we can think about fluency, speech sounds, and their sound quality or intelligibility.  With writing, we can look at legibility, and with signs, you can think of well-formed readable signs. The goal of production is that the person you are trying to communicate with can understand your message.  When something interferes with somebody’s receptive language, expressive language, pragmatic language, articulation, fluency, voice quality, or even swallowing, speech therapy can help a person to improve both communication and swallowing.


What is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy aims to improve a person’s communication. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are professionals who specialize in speech-language therapy.  They must go through a rigorous university program, get a master’s degree, complete a 9-month clinical fellowship year (CFY) where they are under the supervision of a senior speech-language pathologist (SLP), get credentialed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and then get their state license to practice.  If you or a loved one is seeking speech therapy please make sure that the person you are considering has ASHA certification and state licensure for the state you live in.


A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will first conduct a speech-language evaluation for the client to identify how to best address the complaint.  Once the evaluation is completed, the SLP will explain the results to the client or caregiver and develop a treatment plan.  A treatment plan will contain goals and objectives that are created specifically for the client, explaining exactly what the client and SLP will be working on.


Which Language Disorders Do Speech Therapists Treat?


  1. Receptive language disorder: affects the ability to comprehend spoken language and, in some cases, written language. Individuals suffering from a receptive language disorder may struggle to understand spoken language, respond properly, or both. This makes it difficult to communicate and causes difficulties at school.
  2. Expressive language disorder: the inability to effectively express needs and thoughts by words is known as an expressive language disorder. Children with this condition can misspell terms, mix up verb tenses, and repeat phrases or parts of sentences. Expressive language disorders cause issues in social situations, at work, and in school.
  3. Pragmatic language disorder: also known as “social language disorder”.  This is the inability to use socially appropriate language.  This disorder occurs when a person uses inappropriate or unrelated language for a given context. Has difficulty turn-taking in a conversation, has poor eye contact, has difficulty matching their tone and facial expression to message, and has difficulty introducing and maintaining a conversation. This causes problems with forming and maintaining relationships.
  4. Cognitive-communication disorder: difficulty with every aspect of the conversation that is hindered by a disturbance of cognition(thought). Attention, memory, organization, problem-solving/reasoning, and executive functions are some examples of cognitive processes.  This type of disorder impacts all facets of life.


Which Speech Disorders Do Speech Therapists Treat?


  1. Articulation disorder: an articulation disorder is when a person’s speech contains one or more of the following: sound errors, omissions, distortions, or substitutions.  These types of production errors affect the quality or intelligibility of the speaker’s speech.  In some cases, making it difficult to understand what the person is saying.
  2. Fluency disorder: also known as “stuttering,” is distinguished by repetitions of sounds, syllables, or entire words; prolongations of sounds; or blocks of airflow or voicing during speech are examples of primary behaviors.
  3. Resonance disorder: also known as “voice disorders”.  Voice disorders occur when the speech signal produces too much or too little nasal and/or oral sound energy. It may be caused by physiological or functional (e.g., neurogenic) factors, and it may also be caused by mislearning (e.g., articulation errors that can lead to the perception of a resonance disorder).


How Does It Work?

By completing a thorough speech-language evaluation the SLP determines what kind of speech-language difficulty the client has and the best treatment method to address it. SLPs work in a variety of settings including schools, clinics, and hospitals.  In schools, SLPs work with children mostly in small groups or the classroom.  In clinic and hospital settings, speech-language therapy is usually provided by the speech-language pathologist (SLP) to one client at a time.


The first goal of every speech-language pathologist (SLP) is to create a relationship or “build rapport” with the client.  It’s essential that the SLP has patience, empathy, and caring for the client they are working with to help the client make the most progress possible.  Most oftentimes speech-language goals are not achieved overnight, therefore the SLP needs to be respected by the client to get through the tough work that is speech-language therapy.


Practice is the ultimate treatment for speech and language disorders. If a child has difficulty with articulation, the speech-language pathologist (SLP) will spend time teaching them how to produce the correct sounds. The speech therapist will make the sounds and encourage the child to learn to imitate them.


That entails mimicking the speech therapist’s (SLP) movements of the lips, mouth, and tongue to produce the desired sound. Mirrors can be useful in this situation. The SLP can instruct a child to make these speech sounds when looking in the mirror. Speech therapists find this process more enjoyable when using games.


SLPs employ techniques that are adapted to the specific needs of each child. Some of the techniques are:



Final Thoughts

Speech and language are essential to the human experience.  Speech therapy can help people improve their communication skills which will improve their overall life experience.  While speech-language therapy typically is not a “quick fix”, through consistent speech therapy sessions with an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist, amazing, life-changing progress can be made.

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