What to Expect From Speech-Language Therapy

Speech-Language Therapist in Action

By Sarah Campbell, MSLT-Prac
Speech-Language Therapist

In This Article:

  • Overview of the Speech Therapy Process
  • Treatment Techniques
  • Collaborating with Other Health Professionals

Speech-Language Therapists (SLTs) assess and treat speech, language and feeding/swallowing issues. While this may be a suitable “one-liner” description of the speech-language therapy process, many are left wondering what it actually entails! This article aims to demystify the process: Firstly, with a “birds-eye-view”, providing a high-level overview of treatment; Secondly, by exploring several samples of common therapy techniques; And thirdly, with insights as to how SLTs can collaborate to provide treatment alongside other professionals.
 
I hope it gives people considering speech therapy an idea of what they are “in for”!
 

Overview of the Speech Therapy Process

Therapy usually starts with an assessment. During assessments, an SLT will use a range of informal and formal tests to identify types of communication problems – such as those related to:

  • Fluency, i.e. stuttering;
  • Speech clarity – errors with speech sounds;
  • Receptive and/or expressive language development;
  • Feeding and swallowing, including excessive dribbling; or
  • Voice quality, such as quiet, hoarse or overly nasal speech.

Time will also be spent in discussion with family, learning their main concerns as well as the client’s medical and developmental background. Based on assessment outcomes, the SLT will establish any areas of need and determine an individualised treatment plan. He or she will work with the client and their family to decide upon specific therapy targets. Moving forward, therapy is about actually working to those targets.
 
Often after approximately six to eight speech-language therapy sessions, the SLT will conduct a review of those targets and, if appropriate, identify new communication targets. This “assess-treat-assess” process would repeat until the client and their family are happy.
 
At this point, you may find yourself asking, “How long might I (or my child) need speech-language therapy for? The answer can vary between individuals, but we have done our best to answer this question over on the Frequently Asked Questions page.
 

Treatment Techniques

Speech-language therapy treatment is often highly individualised, with SLTs using a variety of strategies depending on an individual’s age and their presenting communication issues. Take, for example, a younger child presenting with a language delay. The SLT would aim to make therapy exciting and engaging, using games and play involving everyday objects, pictures or books to stimulate language development. The SLT may also carry out exercises in which they model correct language, and then encourage repetition by the child.
 
As another scenario, consider a teenaged client experiencing speech-sound errors such as a frontal lisp (using a “TH” sound instead of an “S”). Therapy would primarily focus on directly teaching speech strategies. These strategies might involve demonstrations of how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds, followed by exercises to encourage the client to use the techniques themselves.
 
Speech-language therapy treatment for feeding and oral-motor issues is worth mentioning as a distinct example, as the therapeutic approach is quite different from the above scenarios. It may involve the SLT coaching clients through a range of oral exercises to strengthen the muscles controlling the mouth. These exercises might include tongue, lip, and jaw movements, as well as facial massage.
 

Collaborating with Other Health Professionals

SLTs work closely with Teachers and other health professionals, such as Doctors, Audiologists and Psychologists. Depending on the other professional involved, SLTs may collaborate mainly by writing or receiving letters of referral. However, some professions work more closely with SLTs than others. For example, the support provided to clients by SLTs in collaboration with Audiologists and/or Ear-Nose-and-Throat Specialists (ENTs), can involve several steps: On one hand, SLT may request tests to determine whether the client’s communication difficulties have perhaps stemmed from an underlying hearing difficulty. On the other hand, an Audiologist or ENT may refer children with language delays caused by hearing loss to a SLT in order to work through treatment before deciding whether or not a more invasive approach such as surgery is necessary.
 
Detailed letters of referral from SLTs can often bring the wait time down for the surgery, particularly in the public sector.
 
Private Speech-Language Therapists can often collaborate with public SLTs who work for the Ministry of Education (MoE), with clients beginning private therapy while on a waiting list for MoE services. You can find more comments about how public and private therapists collaborate by again referring to our Frequently Asked Questions page.
 

Summary

The speech-language therapy process is not meant to be a confusing or overwhelming event, but rather a supportive and inclusive experience for clients and their families. If you are concerned about your child’s speech and/or language development, I hope you may feel confident to take the first step and make contact with a Speech-Language Therapist today.
 
Sarah Campbell
MSLT-Prac | Speech-Language Therapist