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What is a Speech Language Pathologist?



May 18th is National Speech Language Pathology Day! This day is made even more special because May is also Speech and Hearing Month! Put the two together and - you guessed it - there's a lot of celebration to be had.


If you are wondering, "what is a Speech Language Pathologist?", then you aren't alone. Speech Language Pathologists, or SLPs, are health professionals who specialize in communication and swallowing (broadly... but more on that later). Read on to learn interesting facts about:

  • The Scope of Speech Language Pathology

  • The History of Speech Language Pathology

  • Education of an Speech Language Pathologist

  • Final Thoughts to Celebrate


The Scope of Speech Language Pathology

According to Speech-Language and Audiology Canada, SLPs are "health professionals who identify, diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders across the lifespan". However, communication and swallowing encompass a multitude of different clincial areas. For example;

  • Articulation (moving our faces to produce precise speech sounds).

  • Resonance (the way our bodies make sound vibrations in the throat, mouth, and nose).

  • Voice (the health and use of our voice box, lungs, and supporting body structures).

  • Non-language (or, pre-linguistic) communication (using gestures, vocalizations, and body language to communicate - for example, communicating with children before they have learned language).

  • Language comprehension (the ability to understand others).

  • Language expression (the ability to make ourselves understood).

  • Literacy (reading and writing).

  • Feeding and swallowing (chewing and swallowing in a way that is safe, efficient, and effective).

  • Alternative and augmentative communication (supplementing speech with techniques that are more accessible to some patients - for example, using an electronic device or communication book).

  • Accent modification and public speaking.

  • And much, much more!

With so many areas of clinical practice, SLPs can be found working with a variety of patients and clients. Here is just a start:

  • Helping babies, infants, and children feed and swallow safely. This can be important if they are born pre-term, if they have structural differences (such as cleft palates), or if they require additional considerations due to sensory or motor challenges.

  • Helping children understand others and express themselves, especially if they are adapting to hearing devices, or if they have learning or developmental disabilities.

  • Helping children and adults communicate and participate in their communities. This can be important for people with speech and language delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other developmental disabilities.

  • Helping transgender people modify their voices safely and sustainably. This is sometimes called gender-affirming voice therapy.

  • Helping people who stutter communicate effectively and confidently.

  • Helping corporations and professionals in public speaking and team communication.

  • Helping patients in hospitals swallow safely and communicate after cancer surgery or treatment (especially cancer of the face, mouth, throat, or brain), stroke or other brain injury, prolonged respirator use, and more!

  • Helping patients in long-term care homes or the community swallow and communicate with progressive diseases such as Parkinson disease, ALS, dementia, and others.

  • Working on specialist medical teams for neurology, otolaryngology (ENTs), oncology, mental health, and more!

  • Working in private practices, universities, research institutions, or in technology development for speech recognition and speech generation software.

Phew, did you catch all of that?


Here is the main takeaway - SLPs are diverse and multi-faceted professionals who offer communication and swallowing expertise to a variety of populations throughout life.


This is why it is important to seek services from a SLP who is experienced in the question or concern you have. For example, if you have a question or concern about speech and swallowing in Parkinson disease and other movement disorders, then SpeakSTRONG is an excellent choice. We offer specialized services and treatments for Parkinson disease and related movement disorders. You can book an appointment here (and yes, we offer FREE initial consultations)! We can’t wait to meet you.


History of Speech Language Pathology

The field is traditionally thought to have gained recognition in the 1920's, when soldiers returning home from war needed help healing from traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, can damage areas of the brain used for speech, language, thinking, and swallowing. Even after other physical injuries have healed, the symptoms of TBIs can persist. These symptoms often require specific expertise from a SLP to treat.


Others argue that the field of SLP has even older roots. Since the 1800’s, various clinicians have worked and conducted research in this area. For example, Edgar Werner is known for publishing the first professional journal, "The Voice", in 1879 (Duchan, 2002). Some speculate that Edgar was inspired to conduct this research because he also had a stutter.


Special interest groups were also catalysts in the field. For example, the self-proclaimed "American Academy of Speech Correction" was formed in 1925. It included university professionals in communication and psychology, physicians in otolarngology and psychiatry, and leaders from various "speech correction" programs in schools (Duchan, 2002).


Over the next 100 years, the field grew rapidly. Today, the Canadian Association (Speech-Language and Audiology Canada) has over 7,000 members and associates across the country. Speech Language Pathologists are recognized around the world. They are represented by a variety of professional organizations and associations, including:


Education of a Speech Language Pathologist

In Canada, SLPs require a minimum of a Master's degree from an accredited university. This involves both intensive coursework, clinical experience through practicums, and sometimes a research project or thesis. Some choose to go on and obtain their Doctorate degrees, or pursue further research. Here is a list of Canadian universities offering Masters degrees in Speech Language Pathology in English:

Speech-Language and Audiology Canada offers an up-to-date list of SLP programs, including French programs. Find it by clicking here.


To practice as a clinician in the field, SLPs must also pass a national board exam and be registered with their provincial college. To maintain registration, SLPs must pay college dues and demonstrate continued competency. Colleges typically require SLPs to demonstrate this by accumulating and maintaining a minimum number of professional education hours and clinical practicing hours. This is similar to standards in other professional fields.


If you’re thinking about studying to become an SLP, or you are in school and considering a career in movement disorders, then reach out to us at SpeakSTRONG! We’ve been in your shoes, and it can be helpful to talk to practicing SLPs for guidance or opportunities.


Final Thoughts

Speech Language Pathology is an incredibly rewarding and diverse field. The ability to communicate and enjoy meals together is important to our identity, health, relationships, and community participation. Thank you for taking the time to learn about SLP.


So, let's break out the party hats and streamers, and let's make some noise for Speech Language Pathology!


Happy National SLP Day, and happy Speech and Hearing Month!



References

Duchan, J. F. (2002). What Do You Know About Your Profession’s History? ASHA Leader, 7(23), 4. https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.ftr.07232002.4


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