What does a speech language pathologist do?

Speech language pathologists (also sometimes referred to as ‘speech therapists’) work with individuals with communication needs. If you are a parent and are concerned about your child’s speech and language, it is always best to seek out the advice of a professional. 

We offer speech & language assessment and treatment services in-person and via tele-practice. We understand that the process, and even the lingo, can be overwhelming at first but we are here to help guide you.

Assessment / Evaluation

These words are synonymous. This is a required step in order for a speech-language pathologist to determine if concerns exist, and if so, the severity of the delay. An analysis of your child’s results allows us to have an in depth understanding of his or her strengths and areas of need. At this point, we can make appropriate recommendations pertaining to frequency of services, and other referrals, if necessary.  Research indicates that early identification and intervention results in the best communication outcomes. If you are unsure about whether your child requires an assessment, do not hesitate to call for a free phone consultation and we will provide you with our recommendation. 

Treatment / Therapy / Intervention

These words are interchangeable. Once your child’s skills have been assessed and their areas of need have been identified, we can begin working on them together. While evaluations can be tiresome for little ones, therapy is FUN! Any excellent clinician will make your child forget that they are ‘working’ at all. Your child will achieve their goals through structured/formal or informal play and practice their targets in a functional way. Your speech language pathologist will provide you with home practice to help support his or her goals between sessions (word lists, handouts, game suggestion). Regular practice is necessary for the best gains!

Tele-practice / Virtual Services

Both assessment and treatment can be done via tele-practice. The service delivery model is a great fit for most children. It’s been around for decades and it won’t be going anywhere even long after covid is behind us! Our clinicians know how to keep children engaged through the screen using a variety of materials and digital speech therapy games. If you are unsure if your little one would be a good fit for virtual services, we are happy to try it out and if he or she cannot participate we will stop after a few minutes and you will not be billed. We offer shorter session lengths for kiddos that cannot attend for long. 

What areas do speech language pathologists assess and treat?

A speech language pathologist can both assess and treat many areas; our scope is quite large! The examples below discuss and give examples of some of the key areas we assess and treat:

Articulation / Speech

This refers to the pronunciation of speech sounds and overall clarity. Simple speech sounds such as ‘W’, ‘B’ and ‘P’ develop by the age of 3, while more complex sounds such as ‘R’ and ‘TH’ continue to emerge until a child reaches approximately the age of 8. Acquiring sounds can be difficult for some children, causing distortions, omissions or substitutions.  A speech-language pathologist can determine whether or not your child’s errors are age-appropriate or if they would benefit from intervention.

Expressive and Receptive Language

This refers to the ability to understand language (receptive) and use it verbally in a meaningful way (expressive). While these two parts of language are very different, we like to describe them together because they are so closely reliant on one another; a child cannot label a word (e.g., say banana to request) unless he or she is first able to identify a word (e.g., point or gaze to a banana upon hearing the word). Individuals with a wide range of needs may require language therapy. As children with language delays reach school-age years, they may face academic challenges; even children with mild impairments may have difficulty with higher-level language skills (i.e., inferencing, reasoning, summarizing, describing) as well as understanding vocabulary associated with various subjects such as math and science. 

Emergent Language / Early Intervention

The clarity and content of a child’s speech and language continue to emerge until 3 (and beyond). If a child is not meeting their early language milestones or saying their first words, a speech-language pathologist can help rule out any other cause for this delay. Some children are “late talkers” and simply develop their expressive language skills at a slower rate than their peers. They may catch up without intervention, but can benefit from language stimulation as well as parent strategies provided by a speech-language pathologist.

Social / Pragmatics

These skills encompass a wide range of verbal as well as non-verbal communication. Examples of social skills include eye contact, initiating conversation, joining into groups, reading body language and understanding the subtle nuances of language (i.e., humour and idioms). Children with autism spectrum disorder often require support in this area as it is one of the primary impairments associated with the diagnosis.

Oral Motor / Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Our lips, tongue, jaw and palate (also known as our articulators) all require a great deal of strength, motion and coordination in order to produce speech. Weakness of the articulators, or poor coordination of brain signals to the articulators, can cause a breakdown in clarity. A speech-language pathologist can assess whether or not there are any deficits or structural deviations interfering with the functioning of any oral motor mechanisms.

Fluency/ Stuttering

This refers to the smoothness of ones words during connected speech. Dysfluencies, also referred to as stutters, can be considered “typical” depending on the frequency and type. Many preschool-age children present with a sudden-onset of stuttering that may correct itself without intervention. A speech-language pathologist can determine whether your child requires intervention for their dysfluencies, depending on many factors such as frequency, types of dysfluencies, and the presence of secondary characteristics. Common stutters indicative of a disorder include prolongations (i.e., “sssssock”), repetitions (i.e., “s-s-s-s-s-ock”) and blocks (i.e., “—–sock”).

Literacy / Reading / Phonological Awareness

Before a child can begin to read, they start learning how to identify, manipulate and substitute of phonemes and syllables, count phonemes and syllables, produce rhymes and blend sounds together. Once these foundational skills are in place, children can begin decoding, recognizing more sight words and gathering meaning from what they read. A breakdown in any one of these skills can make literacy challenging, and cause reading to be ‘boring’ or aversive.