shutterstock 1164879346What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?

Speech-language pathologists or SLPs are trained professionals adept at dealing with problems of communication and swallowing, including sound articulation, social communication, and fluency. They treat both children and adults in a variety of settings. The following are common career opportunities for speech-language pathologists:

Education

The majority of jobs for speech-language pathologists fall under the realm of education.

Schools

Working in a school setting is the predominant career for SLPs, with 52 percent working with children in early intervention, preschool, and grades K-12. Their duties are highly varied:

  • In public school settings, SLPs are part of the treatment team for children who are identified—or may be identified—as special needs. Children who have been recognized as special needs receive an Independent Education Program (IEP) to address their specific learning requirements. An SLP has a hand in creating the IEP as well as implementing the recommended treatment intervention. It should be noted that children in private schools that do not employ speech pathologists may receive SLP services from a public school in their area if they qualify.
  • SLPs can conduct diagnostic evaluations to discover the exact nature of language and communication problems. This is usually done as a way to ascertain the need for an IEP or specialized services.
  • SLPs will work with children individually or in small groups on various communication issues such as:
    • Helping children with autism communicate in socially acceptable ways.
    • Managing communication disorders, such as dyslexia and stuttering.
    • Improve vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.
    • Increasing phonological skills, such as basic reading and decoding.
  • SLPs train teachers and parents in ways to help students with academic, communication, and social skills in an educational environment.
  • Besides writing evaluations, there is a fair amount of documentation required for children receiving special education services for which an SLP may be responsible.

Colleges

Only a small portion of SLPs are in careers in higher education. In a college setting, they may conduct research, teach, or perform clinical supervision. They can also provide direct clinical work in a university clinic or associated health care facility, such as a university hospital.

Hospitals

Speaking of hospitals, many SLPs work in a hospital setting. People in hospitals may have speech and language issues as a result of a medical problem, such as a brain tumor, or due to an injury, such as a car accident. The major role of an SLP is to provide an assessment of the issue and to create a treatment plan for follow-up care. An acute care setting does not allow for much direct clinical work, but it can assist in setting up care in a longer-term setting. Some hospitals possess outpatient services, however, that allows SLPs to provide direct care.

Residential Facilities

Residential settings, such as assisted living for senior citizens or a skilled nursing facility offer the opportunity for SLPs to do longer-term clinical work. For example, someone who suffered a stroke may go to a rehabilitation center to work on recovering their speech abilities. Or, an older adult experiencing dementia may need to work on retaining their communication skills. SLPs are much in demand to work at residential facilities where their work is highly valued.

Outpatient Work

There are plenty of agencies and clinics that need speech-language pathologists. For example, a speech and hearing clinic will employ SPLs to do clinical work on an outpatient basis. Or a home health agency might hire an SLP to provide direct care to people in their homes. Further, an SLP might work in an early intervention program providing services to at-risk youth.

Corporate Work

You may not think about the need for speech and language services in the business world but they can be quite valuable to corporate success. The focus of SLPs in this area is less on pathology and more on helping train employees for optimal business interactions. An SLP, for instance, may educate individuals on presentation and interviewing skills. In addition, they may help employees focus on aspects of communication valued by the corporate world, such as fluency and social communication. Further, an SLP might help businesses work with employees or clients with speech and language disabilities. Although an SLP might be hired to work as a company employee, it is more likely they would work with a company as an outside consultant.

Social Work

Abused and neglected youth (and adults) may have the development of their speech and language abilities delayed. An SLP may be asked to diagnose and treat an individual who never had the opportunity to have their problem identified or help someone recover their potential stunted by abuse. An SLP often works closely with a social worker who is the case manager for a family or individual and may have referred them for services.

Interdisciplinary Office Work

Speech-language pathologists often work with other colleagues as part of an interdisciplinary team. For professions that frequently work together, it is not unusual to share office space. SLPs may work in an office with audiologists and occupational therapists because they often find the need to work together. For example, occupational therapists help people develop, maintain, and recover daily living skills. Communication and language skills are critical to daily living and the work of SLPs complement the overall goals of occupational therapy.

Government Work

Government-funded agencies often employ SPLs to work in an administrative or clinical capacity. For example, they may be contracted to work for a public health agency providing services as a consultant or performing direct care. Further, they may provide services for active military and veterans, such as working for Veterans Affairs (VA).

Private Practice

Quite often, an SLP will choose to start their own private practice. As their own employer, they can consult to schools, outside agencies, or corporations as well as provide direct clinical care in their office. Private practice affords SLPs flexibility they are unlikely to get in other jobs. It is a popular choice for people that have some experience and have built up contacts and a positive reputation within the field. Although you may start as a solo practice, there is also room for growth (if you wish) by adding other practitioners. The downside of private practice is having to manage the administrative tasks that are otherwise completed by others when working as part of an organization.

A career as a speech-language pathologist opens up a world of options. While most end up working in education, there are jobs in outpatient, inpatient and residential settings one can obtain. With great flexibility, you can choose a career within the field of speech-language pathology that will best fit your goals and desired lifestyle.

MS Broudy

December 2019

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