What is the job of a speech-language pathologist?
Speech-language pathologists (SLP), often referred to as speech therapists, evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech and language disorders from birth to the geriatric population. Most people probably do not realize all the areas that fall under the scope of practice of an SLP. Learn more about speech pathologist jobs.
Speech language pathologists may be employed in many different settings including schools, private clinics, hospitals, nursing
There are such a wide variety of disorders these professionals treat in both children and adults. Also, many people are unaware that there is a difference between speech and language. Speech is the actual production and articulation of sounds, which involves coordinating muscles and movements of the jaw, mouth, and tongue. Language is how a person uses and understands words they see and hear. Examples of the impairments SLPs treat for are described below.
Adult clients who need the services of a speech-language pathologist consist mainly of those with voice issues, swallowing issues, trach and vent patients, and stroke victims suffering from aphasia (loss of words).
- Voice - These are a variety of reasons someone would need to see an SLP for voice issues. Sometimes people who shout frequently or use their voices loudly, such as cheerleaders or singers, develop vocal cord damage from abuse over time. Due to the vocal cords rubbing together constantly, these individuals can develop nodules or polyps. A speech-language pathologist can work with these individuals to identify any vocal abuses (such as smoking and shouting) and teach them techniques on how to use the voice appropriately. Learn more about the speech pathology degree.
Some people see an SLP because they have undergone neck surgery which damaged a nerve and lead to paralysis of the vocal cords. Therapy may focus on improving breath support, utilizing their optimal pitch, or using vocal function exercises to help maximize movement and coordination of the cords.
Other individuals develop a common cold or even a perpetual cough, which is very abusive to the vocal cords. If laryngitis doesn’t clear up, these people may need to see an SLP. During the course of their illness, many people develop poor voice production habits and may need complete voice rest for up to a week. The speech pathologist can then teach these individuals how to produce the voice with less strain on the vocal cords by eliminating hard glottal attacks. Neck relaxation exercises and laryngeal massage techniques may also be effective in reducing vocal strain.
- Swallowing - Most dysphagia patients tend to be in the geriatric population and have weaker muscles and could even have paralysis on one side of the body. Sometimes patients with swallowing problems choke on thin liquids like water or even their own saliva. Speech-language pathologists can provide these individuals with some compensatory techniques such as turning their head to one side, sitting upright, or doing a “chin tuck” while swallowing to help protect the airway.
If during a “clinical” or “bedside” swallow evaluation an SLP notices signs and symptoms of aspiration such as choking and coughing, they will likely refer them to Radiology for a Video fluoroscopy also known as a Modified Barium or Cookie Swallow. This involves giving them a Barium drink and watching the oral structures, pharynx and other structures while they are swallowing. With this procedure the SLP can determine if the food or liquid is entering the lungs instead of going into the esophagus as it should. The SLP can provide these individuals with some techniques so they are able to swallow with more ease. Sometimes SLPs even have to put swallowing patients on a puree diet if they’re unable to chew food or there is danger of them choking. Learn more about speech pathologist salary.
- Tracheotomy and ventilator patients When patients undergo a tracheotomy, a direct airway is put in the neck through an incision in the trachea, and sometimes their larynx is removed during this procedure due to larynx cancer. Those individuals who have had a tracheotomy breathe through their throat and may need a device called an electrolarynx to produce the necessary vibration to speak. Others need a ventilator in their throat to breath due to some type of blockage.
- Aphasia - Aphasia is a language disorder that oftentimes occurs in stroke victims or those who have recently come out of a coma. Those with aphasia typically have difficulty with word retrieval and/or the understanding of spoken language. When a stroke occurs on the left side of the brain where the speech and language center is, oftentimes the right side, which is responsible for areas like creativity and music, are not affected. Therefore, speech language pathologists oftentimes use Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), which involves singing, as a technique in treating these individuals. The SLP will sing a phrase to the client and have them sing it back. Singing words and phrases creates new pathways in the brain by making both the left (language) and the right (music) work together.
Speech Pathologists spend a lot of their time working with children, especially those employed in the elementary school setting. The vast majority of SLPs are employed by schools and see only children. Typically the children who see an SLP are between the ages of 3-12, and mainly elementary school aged, although in some cases infants and older children also need speech therapy. Below are the main disorders an SLP treats in children.
- Articulation Disorder - An articulation disorder occurs when someone mispronounces words due to substituting one sound for another, or adding, omitting, or distorting sounds. Children with an articulation disorder may just have a few sounds they struggle with, but will repeat these errors on the same sounds in words. Articulation disorders make up the bulk of the speech pathologist’s caseload. Typically the sounds children misarticulate are the /r/, /s/, /th/, and /l/. So for example, rather than saying “frog” a child may pronounce it “fwog”. Or instead of “think” they may say “fink”. A lisp is an articulation disorder where a child substitutes the /th/ sound for the /s/ sound. For example for “sun” they would pronounce it “thun”.
- Phonological Disorder - Children with phonological disorders are unable to form the necessary sounds to create speech at the expected level for their age. These children have unintelligible speech, which is a more serious issue than an articulation disorder because it involves difficulty in the use of their sound speech system. These children have difficulty understanding the rules of the phonological system. One common example of this disorder is with children who substitute the /t/ for the /k/ sound such as “tat” for “cat”.
- Apraxia - Apraxia involves a neurological problem that causes a child to have difficulty planning and coordinating the movements necessary to make speech sounds. Typically, these children’s’ receptive language skills are highly developed, but they have deficits in expressive language due to unintelligible speech. A child with apraxia typically knows what he/she wants to say but their brain has does not allow the lips, tongue and jaw move together to produce a sound. This leads to great frustration in these children since they have a desire to communicate but are unable. Oftentimes children with apraxia do not have any type of recognizable speech through the age of three or four. A neurologist typically diagnoses this disorder but the SLP works with the child thereafter. In working with apraxic children, SLPs use constant repetition to retrain the child’s brain to make motor movements.
- Fluency - Fluency impairments involve a disruption in the forward flow of speech with the repetition or prolongation of sounds or words, during speech. One example of a fluency impairment is stuttering, which involves repeating the first sound of a word multiple times before saying the rest of the word. To treat young children who stutter, SLPs typically encourage fluency enhancing tasks rather than directly addressing the stuttering. For example, by singing nursery rhymes, it promotes a nice rhythm and flow. The rate of speech must be slowed down so these children don’t feel rushed. For older children who stutter, an SLP can help them modify the way they produce sounds.
- Language Disorders - Language impairments involve the improper use of words. There are three main types of language disorders; receptive, expressive, and pragmatic. Receptive language disorders are those where a child has difficulty understanding language. Expressive language disorders involve children having difficulty using language. Pragmatic language disorders pertain to social communication and the way a child speaks to others. Language disorders are not as “black and white” of a problem as speech issues are, which can make them more difficult to resolve. A four-year-old with a receptive language disorder may point to a cow and call it a “giraffe”. He over generalizes that any animal with four legs and spots is called “giraffe”.
- Pragmatic Disorders - Pragmatic disorders occur in children who are non-verbal or verbal children who do not know how to relate socially to others. Speech-language pathologists work with these children on social skills such as to make eye contact when speaking, greetings (hello and goodbye), and how to share and take turns. This language disorder is common in children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Central Auditory Processing - A child with Central Auditory Processing Disorder is unable to take verbal input and derive meaning from it. Children with this disorder have difficulty remembering information given to them verbally, including instructions. They may also have difficulty focusing and following directions. Oftentimes this disorder, which originates in the brain and must be diagnosed by an Audiologist, is commonly mistaken for hearing loss initially or poor listening skills. A speech pathologist also plays a role in the diagnosis of Central Auditory Processing Disorder to rule out language delays. An SLP determines if the child understands basic language concepts such as opposites (hot/cold, up, down, etc). The Audiologist then uses special hearing tests to determine how much of the signal is getting into the child’s brain the correct way.
Why do children develop speech and language disorders?
Children can develop speech and language issues due to a variety of reasons. Some children are born tongue-tied which means the tissue at the bottom of the tongue may be too tight, too short or extend too far. Tongue-tied children have limited tongue movement and may not be able to produce the alveolar sounds, which are produced by the tongue tapping on the roof of the mouth (such as the sounds of a /t/, /d/, /l/ and /m/).
Chronic ear infections can be another cause of speech problems in children. Children learn to articulate appropriately based on imitation and if they are unable to hear sounds clearly, their pronunciation may be incorrect.
Developmental reasons also can affect a child’s ability to articulate words and sounds. The /r/, /s/, and /l/ are difficult sounds for many children to produce and therefore are considered developmentally appropriate misarticulations until age 5 or 6. Oftentimes in these situations a child simply outgrows their articulation impairment.
How long do most patients receive treatment from a speech pathologist?
While each patient and each situation vary greatly, typically children with a speech production type of disorder may see a speech pathologist for around six months. The more severe disorders, like apraxia, usually involve years of treatment. For adult patients, it can greatly vary from voice patients who need to see an SLP for maybe three months, to a stroke survivor who may require a longer course of treatment. Typically to justify the need for speech therapy to insurance companies, a speech therapist must prove that progress is being made through the treatment. When a patient has reached a plateau and is not making further progress, the therapy can no longer be justified.
Speech Pathologist Salary
What is the average salary of a speech language pathologist?
As is true with any occupation, pay can vary for the speech language pathologist, a career that typically requires a minimum of a master's degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for speech pathologists working nationwide is $74,900 as of May 2014. Of course, pay can depend on a number of factors including time on the job, place of employment and even the part of the country where someone lives. The BLS reports that those with the lowest 10 percent of income earned $44,940 or less while those in the upper 10 percent earned $111,000 or more. The highest paying areas in the country for speech pathologists included the following:
- Nevada: $86,980
- New York: $86,370
- Washington, D.C.: $85,440
- California: $85,270
- New Jersey $84,870
Learn more about earning a speech pathology license.
Are speech language pathologists in high demand?
According to the BLS, job opportunities for speech language pathologists are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. This job growth is faster than average and could result in 26,000 new positions becoming available during this time. Driving the demand for growth is an aging baby boomer population that may need help with language and speech difficulties due to conditions such as hearing loss or strokes, reports the BLS. Also, professionals are improving the ways that speech and language difficulties are detected in children, which could also lead to an increased need for speech pathologists. Those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, traumas or strokes often need help developing and strengthening their speech and language abilities as well.
Are there opportunities for advancement?
If speech pathologists want to be more competitive in their field, one option is to seek general certification through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Its Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) may be required for licensing in some states or, alternatively, preferred by some employers for hiring. Another way to advance could be to specialize in working with certain populations, such as voice patients or children with apraxia, to name a few. After gaining experience, the speech language pathologist can become board certified through the ASHA in that specialty to increase their credibility in working with these populations, and this may help the speech pathologists earn increased wages. In addition to specializing in work with a specific population, speech language pathologists can also advance to management positions. They can manage other speech language pathologists as well as physical therapists and occupational therapists. Of course, with advancement, the job duties shift from clinical work and seeing patients to administrative duties.
Another option is to teach speech pathology courses at the college level. Some universities require a PhD in order to teach, but others may accept those with a master's in speech pathology.
Learn more about speech pathologist jobs.
Master Degree in Speech Language Pathology
A master’s in speech-language pathology degree is a postgraduate degree program designed to prepare students for licensure and practice as speech therapists. Professionals who achieve this level of education will be far beyond entry-level work and qualified to practice either independently or within a group practice. By building on the education gained from undergraduate study, students of the master’s in speech-language pathology program are trained to diagnose speech disorders and then implement a treatment plan.
According to the American Stroke Association, nearly 700,000 Americans suffer from stroke every year; about one person every 45 seconds. In fact, more than four-million Americans are currently living with the after effects of stroke. Statistically, 40% of patients that suffer stroke will have moderate-to-severe speech disability and will require special care, while 10% of these patients will require long-term care and management.
As a student of the master’s in speech-language pathology degree, it is important to understand that these are the types of patients that you are likely to be working with. While you will be qualified to work with speech disabilities of all etiologies, you should understand the affect that stroke is having on the demand for speech language pathologists. As you can see, every year nearly 280,000 stroke patients are likely to require special care or speech rehabilitation.
How to become a Speech Pathologist
How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist
The following are the most direct steps to pursuing a career in this exciting field.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology or something in the biology or liberal arts field. Examples of possible majors that will tie in well for a career in speech pathology include: English, Communication, Linguistics, Phonics, Anatomy, Psychology, Human Development, Biology, and Physiology.
- Earn a master’s degree in speech pathology from an accredited program. In this program one must earn 400 clinical experience hours.
- Complete a Clinical Fellowship Year by applying for various speech pathologist positions. This CFY will involve being closely supervised and monitored since you’re new to the profession.
- Sit for and pass the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association national certification exam to earn the SLP-CCC credentials.
- Become licensed by your state. This usually just requires submitting an application, transcripts, and proof of passing the ASHA certification exam.
- Find a job in this rewarding field.
- Maintain 30 continuing education credits every three years. Also keep up with your state’s continuing education requirements if necessary.
What types of personality traits would make someone a good fit for this profession?
If you’re considering pursuing a career as a speech pathologist, you want to ensure this is a good fit with your
Read more and learn more about the speech pathology salary. The information on the speech pathology salary page was researched utilizing a variety of sources, providing you with the latest salary information available.
The various speech pathology degree available are discussed on the speech pathology degree page. A speech pathology position requires an individual to be highly educated, skilled, and qualified, so an advanced degree is necessary in most cases.
Speech-Language Pathology Schools
eech-language pathology training the right choice for me?
The ability to convey thoughts, ideas, emotions, and needs by way of speech is something that is entirely unique to humankind. For most of us this is something we take for granted, but for those who struggle with the ability to speak, the most basic interactions with other people in the course of daily life can be agonizing and humbling.
It is through speech that humans most directly and universally express themselves. A person’s level of self-confidence, and by extension personal success, can sometimes be directly related to their ability to speak confidently. Speech-language pathologists
What’s involved in earning a graduate degree in speech-language pathology?
Earning a master’s degree in speech-language pathology can be accomplished through a two year graduate program available through either conventional campus based institutions or online schools. These intensive programs are designed to prepare graduates for a job that is at the same time highly technical and very individualized and personal in nature.
Speech-language pathologists graduate from these programs with a comprehensive understanding of the physical mechanics of speech, and the other functions of speech-related organs including swallowing. Classes will focus on providing full knowledge of various processes related to these organs such as peristalsis, and the aeromechanics that affect the ability to speak.
What courses are included in speech pathology graduate programs?
All speech pathology schools offer programs that will allow students to explore the many disorders affecting a person’s ability to speak. This will allow students to ultimately arrive at a full understanding of the various disorders and how they affect the function of the organs related to speech. Among these would be such common disorders as dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, as well as more severe disorders related to injury, developmental limitations, or autism.
Additionally, students can expect to learn all about the motor functions of the organs related to speech, as well as the psychological and emotional aspects of communication. Those interested in knowing how to become a speech pathologist will find it worth noting that the subjects taught in these programs are incredibly diverse since they address a tremendous range of subjects related to speech; from the purely physiological, to the deeply psychological.
The coursework an aspiring speech-language pathologist can expect to encounter will be extremely diverse. The areas of study that will commonly be included in the programs offered by speech pathology schools are as follows:
- Craniofacial physiology
- Aerodigestive functionality
- Syntax and lexicology
- Linguistics and morphology
- Medical sciences
- Clinical language sciences
- Physical development of speech organs
- Principals of acoustics
- Nature of common speech disorders
- Developmental psychology and child psychology
- The psychology of communication
- Childhood development
- Speech disorder evaluation and diagnosis
- Mechanics of feeding and swallowing
- Child language development
Speech Pathology Degree
What type of degree is required to become a speech pathologist?
Most speech language pathologist jobs require applicants to have earned a master’s degree. Typically, aspiring speech pathologists attend college for four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology or a major with a strong liberal arts focus. Following graduation from a bachelor’s degree program, students enter a master’s in speech-language pathology degree program. Master's programs are usually two years in length.
Learn more about speech pathology license.
Prerequisite courses, such a human verbal development, are required before students are admitted into a speech-language pathology program. The amount and type of prerequisites vary from one program to the next.
Are internships or clinical rotations part of speech-language pathology programs?
Speech-language pathology master’s degree programs are typically two years in duration, the first year and a half consisting mainly of didactic coursework and the last semester consisting of clinical rotations. Typically several different clinical settings, such as hospital and school, are required. Students typically spend 10-12 weeks in each clinical rotation. Each program varies but most require an SLP student obtain a set number of clinical hours working with both adults and children, and covering a variety of speech and language impairments.
Upon graduation from an SLP master’s degree program, the first year working in the field is referred to as the Clinical Fellowship Year (CFY) and requires extra supervision. The CFY is a paid position and one must submit a resume and interview for it like they would any other job, but since the individual is newly employed in this field, a supervisor or mentor must be assigned to monitor their work and offer support.
Speech Pathology License
Is there a national certification exam for speech-language pathologists?
In most employment settings SLPs are required to be nationally certified through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To become certified, one must have graduated from an accredited speech-language pathology master’s
Are continuing education units required in this field?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association requires speech-language pathologists to obtain 30 continuing education credits every three years to maintain their certification status. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are also currently 41 states that require continuing education units to be submitted for licensure renewal. There can be a great deal of overlap between the continuing education units needed for certification and licensure.
Speech Pathologist Jobs
What is within a speech pathologists scope of practice?
Speech pathologists can diagnose any disorder pertaining to speech and language directly, including articulation and phonological impairments, receptive or expressive language delays, aphasia, and apraxia. SLPs are not able to diagnose any disorder on the autism spectrum, although these professionals are oftentimes very good at identifying the symptoms. If he/she suspects a child may have an autism related disorder, the SLP must refer him/her to a developmental pediatrician or child psychologist.
Learn more about speech pathologist salary.
What other professionals do speech pathologists work with?
In some settings, such as the hospital or clinic, the work of a speech pathologist is more autonomous, in other settings such as an early childhood facility or school setting they work in teams. In early childhood development facilities, like Easter Seals, an SLP
What types of equipment or tools does a speech pathologist use?
There are a variety of different devices SLPs may use to help them with their job. Below are a few examples.
- Augmentative Communication Device
An Augmentative Communication Device is a speech-generating computer with a dynamic touch screen. This device allows a person to push buttons and the machine will speak for the person. It works well for individuals who have enough cognition and receptive language skills to communicate but are limited in their abilities to produce speech. Examples of individuals who may benefit from an augmentative communication device include stroke survivors, coma survivors, individuals with cerebral palsy, and even those with mental retardation.
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- Stroboscopy camera
A stroboscopy is sometimes necessary for patients with voice impairments. This procedure involves suppressing a patient’s tongue and inserting a small camera to the back of their throat while they phonate vowel sounds like “ahhhh”. This procedure allows the SLP to examine the vocal cords while in movement. Sometimes Ear Nose and Throat doctors perform the stroboscopy, whereas other times it is handled by the speech pathologist.
- Computer analysis voice program
For some voice patients the SLP may use a computer program with a microphone to analyze specific characteristics of their voice such as quality and pitch.
- Speech-Language Pathologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291127.htm
- Speech-Language Pathologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-6