“What Do You Do, Anyway?”

“I went to speech when I was in school.” I hear this a lot when I meet people for the first time. I am always interested in listening to people’s stories, including their reminiscing about speech therapy. I listen intently to their story, but rarely respond. I refrain from a giving a lecture, mostly because that would be rude, but also because it is about their story, not truly about their inquisitiveness about my profession.

This initial blog is my response to all of you who went to “speech therapy” and that meet me for the first time at a social gathering. This is my imagined lecture, if you really want to know what I do. Here it goes.

This is not your ordinary “speech teacher” job! I work as a speech-language pathologist. That is the term that our professional organization, The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) gives to this multifaceted profession. Some people are more familiar with the terms “speech therapist” or “speech teacher” or the acronym SLP.

My job is to figure out if an individual has a speech-language difficulty and then I treat the problem. The goal for that individual is to reach his or her communication potential and to function in everyday life, more easily interacting with others. It is incredibly rewarding and I am often humbled that people permit me to be such an integral part of their lives.

So what kinds of “speech-language difficulties” do people sometimes have? This question is fit for a fifteen week graduate course, but I will give it a try. Some speech-language pathologists work with adults, I work specifically with children so I will start there.

Young children sometimes are slower in developing speech and language. Essentially, they are delayed talkers or their speech is difficult to understand. Some children have other medical or developmental conditions, which contribute to this talking difficulty. This may be autism, a hearing loss, or other medical conditions such as Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy.

Older children or adults may have difficulty being understood because their speech sounds are not clearly articulated. Some stutter. Some have difficulty processing what they hear or have language-based reading problems. Sometimes there is a loss of language due to head injury or accident, disease or stroke. Speech pathologists can help individuals who have difficulty swallowing. They can help individuals who have problems with using their voice. They can help those with hearing loss.

Like I said, this is more than your stereotypical “speech teacher”. And it is beyond this blog to describe all that this profession encompasses. What I would love for you to know is this…..
Speech is complex. Language is truly miraculous. It is a wonder that anyone talks. It can be stressful and frightening when using language and speech is difficult.
But more importantly, there is help for individuals who have difficulty communicating. That person is a speech-language pathologist.

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