Speech therapists, also known as speech language pathologists, are experts in speech and communication. They work with children and adults to sharpen communication skills and improve quality of life. According to the BLS, The median pay for speech therapists is $77,510 per year, and the field of speech pathology is expected to grow 27% by 2028.
Speech therapists can expect to find employment in:
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Colleges and universities
- Physicians’ offices
- Rehab facilities
If you’re an enthusiastic, extroverted person with a strong interest in helping others, speech pathology could be an excellent field for you! You’ll learn how to treat speech issues, language disorders, and many other conditions that impact communication. After mastering the basics, you’ll also have the opportunity to expand your knowledge even farther with a field of specialty.
Take your career to the next level with an area of specialization.
The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (also known as ASHA) recognizes many different speech language pathologist areas of specialization. Becoming an expert in one of these areas gives you the chance to earn more money and make a difference in more peoples’ lives. While job searching, your area of specialization will make you stand out from other candidates as well. Whether you’re interested in fluency, feeding and swallowing, or even motor speech disorders, there’s bound to be an ideal specialization for you!
Motor Speech Disorders
Motor speech disorders can be caused by damage to the nervous system, as well as developmental disorders. Since speech is an incredibly complex process that uses many different muscles, there’s a whole branch of speech pathology devoted to these types of disorders.
The two main types of motor speech disorders are:
Apraxia: Patients are unable to properly coordinate their muscles to produce normal speech. Apraxia is more common in young children with developmental disorders.
Dysarthria: Patients produce slow or slurred speech as a result of decreased muscle control. In older patients, this is often caused by neurological conditions such as strokes or brain tumors.
Speech therapists who specialize in motor speech disorders offer individual or group therapy to imporve their patients’ speaking abilities. Some popular techniques include strengthening the muscles involved in speech, as well as changing the rate of speech.
Fluency disorders cause a patient to have difficulties with the normal flow of speech. In many cases, they stutter and have a difficult time expressing themselves. According to ASHA, fluency disorders often negatively impact the lives of children who suffer from them. Early detection is very important, and many speech pathologists who specialize in this area are employed in elementary and secondary schools.
Speech pathologists who work with fluency disorders help patients focus less on their stuttering and other speech issues. Over time, they aim to improve the normal flow of speech and give their patients the confidence they need to speak freely. Techniques such as desensitization and cognitive restructuring are used to accomplish these goals.
Children with receptive language disorders have a hard time understanding what others are saying, while children with expressive language disorders have difficulties expressing thoughts and ideas. Many children have a combination of both of these problems as well, which is known as mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Affected children face many challenges at school, and may fall behind in reading and other subjects.
Language disorders are quite common, and 5% of school-aged children are estimated to have a language disorder. Therefore, many speech therapists specializing in these areas are employed in elementary and secondary schools. These professionals employ individual speech therapy along with psychotherapy techniques to help affected children overcome their language difficulties. The type of therapy a child will need depends on whether their disorder is expressive, receptive, or both.
Feeding and Swallowing
Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, can be devastating for both children and adults. Children can be born with developmental issues that impact their ability to eat properly, and adults can develop swallowing issues later in life as a result of neurodegenerative diseases. To preserve a patient’s mental and emotional health, early detection and intervention are critical. Thankfully, a speech pathologist who specializes in feeding and swallowing disorders can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
First, techniques such as videofluoroscopy are used to gauge a client’s current swallowing abilities. Then, a treatment plan is developed according to a patient’s individual needs. Exercises may be prescribed to promote tongue strength, and breathing techniques may be used as well. In many cases, a patient’s swallowing capabilities can be greatly improved, or even fully restored!
In some extreme cases, patients will lose their ability to swallow entirely. This is a frequent issue in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with premature babies. It can happen with older adults in nursing homes as well. Speech therapists who elect to become feeding specialists can work with these people to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need, even after losing the ability to eat normally.
This speech language pathologist area of specialization focuses on helping people with cognitive-communication deficits. These issues can be quite severe, and usually occur after a:
- Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis
- Brain tumor
- Traumatic brain injury
According to ASHA, patients with cognition-communication disorders often have memory issues and poor communication skills. In some cases, they may even need help with basic tasks such as dressing themselves and eating. However, an experienced speech therapist can boost their quality of life by working to improve their communication abilities. With proper therapy, they can often pick up old hobbies and improve relationships with friends and family.
Resonance disorders occur when the soft palette and the throat don’t function properly. This is often the result of a structural abnormality such as a cleft palette, but it can also be the result of poor learning. People who suffer from this disorder often have hypernasality (a nasally-sounding voice) or a muffled tone of speech.
Although surgery is often used to correct structural cases, speech therapy is a highly effective treatment for resonance disorders that are caused by poor learning. Therapists may ask patients to use a dental mirror while speaking, in order to correct improper speaking techniques. They also use nasometers to show patients when they’re using nasal speech rather than oral, and teach them how to avoid this.
Erica Ciko Campbell
Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Biology| Utica College
Associate of Science (A.S.)| Herkimer County Community College
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