What does a Speech and Language Therapist do?
By Michelle Klompas, MA Speech Pathology at Bellavista School
When talking to people about what I do as a Speech and Language Therapist, I have been asked: “Are you a Speech and Drama Teacher?”, “Do you teach people how to speak in public”, or “It must be such a fun and easy job?”. So what exactly do Speech and Language Therapists do?
Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) can work with paediatrics, babies (as young as new-borns), toddlers, pre-schoolers, school going age children, adults and geriatrics. Broadly speaking, SLTs deal with people who have communication challenges. Communication is an umbrella term which covers verbal communication, for example, speaking and non-verbal communication such as body language and text, which covers reading and written language. SLTs may work in different contexts, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools, old age homes, private practice, and academic settings.
SLTs work with a range of disorders, challenges, learning and communication difficulties. Just to list a few, these may include: developmental disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder, genetic or chromosomal disorders such as Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, general learning difficulties, language disorders such as Specific Language Impairment, speech disorders such as Apraxia, head injury, stroke, people who experience barriers to learning, stuttering, voice disorders, delayed speech and language functioning or feeding and swallowing difficulties. Basically, a SLT may work with a person who experiences challenges with feeding, talking, auditory processing, receptive and expressive language, reading, writing and appropriate communication in different social contexts, which is known as pragmatics. The field is exciting and broad. Often SLTs specialise in specific areas and with certain population groups in order to become experts in their field.
I work within a remedial school setting. Auditory processing refers to how our brain processes auditory input or stimuli. It sets the foundation and building blocks for literacy including phonics, reading, spelling, and writing. Broadly speaking, auditory processing is divided into two main areas, namely, phonological awareness, and auditory memory skills. Phonological awareness skills relate to the awareness or processing of sounds. These skills include: auditory discrimination between sounds, rhyming, syllabification (clapping out or dividing words into syllables), identifying sounds in words, auditory analysis (breaking up words into their individual sounds), auditory blending (joining sounds together to make a word) and auditory manipulation of sounds. These skills are all performed on an auditory level initially and thereafter visuals in the form of letters can be introduced, depending on the age of the child.
Our aim in therapy is to work on the person’s areas of challenge, and to help them be productive, functional members of the community to the best of their own ability. We also highlight their areas of strength and build their sense of self-worth and confidence.
To go back to one of the comments above that I have received, “You have such a fun and easy job”, from my experience, it is fun, but not always easy. It can be a challenging job but extremely rewarding. Communication and connectivity after all, are fundamental human needs.
Below are tips that can help you support those who experience speech, language and communication difficulties:
- Always model what you expect your child to do – children learn best by watching and listening to you. They learn well via imitation.
- When playing with your child, remember the acronym: OWL: O: Observe your child, W: Wait for your child to respond and L: Listen to your child.
- Read books with your child – try 10 minutes every day. You can do paired reading – where you share the reading with your child e.g., your child reads a page/paragraph/sentence and then you read (take turns reading). Stimulate language about the story: after each page ask WH questions e.g., Why did it happen? What happened? Where did they go? Talk about the vocabulary in the story – the words – what do they mean? What’s the opposite of the word? What’s a synonym to the word (a word with similar meaning)?
- Play ‘riddle’ games – e.g., I’m thinking of something big, it’s found in the sky, it’s yellow – what is it? – the sun.
- Play ‘word’ games – e.g., What rhymes with box? What sound does the word “cat” start with? What sound does the word “bag” end with? What sound is in the middle of the word “pot”? You can play ‘I spy’ games – e.g., I spy with my little eye something beginning with a /b/ sound.
- Play ‘memory’ games – e.g., Granny went to the market and bought bread. Granny went to the market and bought bread and milk. Granny went to the market and bought bread, milk and apples etc. – take turns to add something and they must repeat the list in the same order.
- Play ‘car number plate memory’ games – when you are in the car and stop at a traffic light – play a game to memorise the car’s number plate in front of you.
- Play ‘board’ games – e.g., Monopoly, snakes and ladders etc. – these are great ways to learn life skills, such as taking turns.
- Keep the communication going – talk to your child, try and use new words, tell stories, use your imagination and creativity. Have fun with your child.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, language, auditory processing and communication, please contact a Speech and Language Therapist. Early intervention is critical.
For more information, visit www.bellavista.org.za