It’s May, which means it’s Better Speech and Hearing Month! Last year I made a little social media post of a “speech umbrella” visual to demonstrate the different types of voice therapy. Today, I’d like to wave my SLP flag to promote the vast spectrum of what a speech-language pathologist can do within our scope of practice. I am forever amazed by my colleagues, and our profession as a whole, at how resilient, empathetic, creative, patient, and nurturing we are when working with our diverse patient populations across a broad network of professional settings.
I applaud you, my fellow SLPs, who work in difficult settings with medically complex patients, as well as those in schools with huge caseloads and limited resources. The ones helping our young kiddos to express themselves and process the world, and others who are identifying and guiding those in need of special care. The many who compassionately help the elderly or very ill navigate their end of life comfortably, and those who work with older populations in managing changing cognition or aging voices. The ones who assist our fragile newborns in the NICU, along with others who manage safe swallows across all ages. Those who help people find their voice again, or for the first time. The many who bring words to those who can’t speak, and help others find their words who may have lost them. They are advocates, warriors, and providers. Often less visible amidst the healthcare team, but plays a crucial role in the path to recovery for many.
As you can see, many specialties, skillsets, and job descriptions fall under this large umbrella of Speech Therapy. My "ode" above only scratches the surface of the scope of the SLP. Below you will find descriptions of where you may find one of us and what we might be up to, adapted from ASHA’s Website.
What is an SLP
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are healthcare professionals and communication specialists. We help in any area that would allow a person to effectively express themself or understand someone else. ASHA defines an SLP as someone who works to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.
What an SLP can do
Common disorders or communication challenges treated:
Speech disorders (articulation, fluency, and overall intelligibility)
Language disorders and delays (expressive/receptive skills and form, content, and use of language)
Social communication disorders (social skills)
Cognitive-communication disorders (problem solving, organizing thoughts, attention, memory, executive function)
Swallowing disorders (swallow function from when the food enters the mouth and travels into the esophagus)
Voice and voice disorders (hoarseness, strain, vocal pathology, professional voice training and gender affirming care)
Aural rehabilitation (assisting communication with people who are hard of hearing, Deaf, or are learning speech through cochlear implants)
The use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) through devices (often for those who have severe communication limitations)
Other communication training, such as accent modification
Common subspecialties or populations treated:
Developing children (early intervention birth-3 years and school-aged kids)
Children and sometimes adults with special needs, intellectual disabilities, and/or Autism
A person, at any age, who has suffered traumatic brain injury, a stroke, illness, or injury that has impaired communication
Head and neck cancer patients
Aging and elderly populations
A person, at any age, with chronic hoarseness, cough, or breathing issues
Professional voice users who are at high risk for vocal injury (teachers, clergy, executives, etc.)
Athletes with upper respiratory issues
Transgender or Gender Diverse people seeking voice modification
Nonnative English speakers, often professionals, who seek to reduce their accent
Where you might find an SLP
Common employment settings:
Hospital (acute care, rehabilitation, and psychiatric) both inpatient and outpatient
Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility
Veteran’s Affairs (VA), Military Hospital, or Uniformed Services
Home Health Agency
Skilled Nursing Facility or Assisted Living Facility
College or University
Public Health Department
Local, State, or Federal Government Agency (administrative and clinical)
Corporate or Consultant
Medical device/equipment company (sales reps, clinical specialists, consultants, etc.)
This month, dedicated to raising awareness about communication disorders and the professionals that provide care (shout out to our counterpart Audiologists—I see you!) be sure to give a thanks, a high five, a hug, a smile, a thumbs up--whatever feels right—when you pass by.
If you've learned one thing you didn’t already know about SLPs from reading this, please like or leave a comment. Notify me if I missed an opportunity. Happy Better Speech and Hearing Month! Thank you, allied health professionals, for all that you do!
Jessica Schwartz Smith, MS, CCC-SLP is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. She is the owner of Resonate Voice and Speech Services, a speech therapy practice based in Philadelphia that specializes in voice disorders, chronic cough, VCD/PVFM, gender affirming voice therapy, and adult dysphagia.