Not being able to communicate clearly is frustrating. Whether the source of the problem is a stroke, a speech impediment, a head injury or a genetic cause like a cleft lip, a speech-language pathologist can help. These highly educated professionals treat not only speech and language problems but swallowing and feeding disorders.
Pathfinders Speech Language Pathologists and Assistants provide treatment to improve communication skills and treat the following conditions:
Speech-language pathologists (informally known as speech therapists) are educated in human communication. They must hold a minimum of a master’s degree to practice and must be licensed in all states. A speech therapist can assess for all sorts of speech, language or swallowing disorders. Once the assessment is complete, the speech therapist will develop a plan to help the patient and work with the patient and the family to treat the problems that have been identified.
Speech and Language Disorders
Speech disorders are problems with producing sounds. A stutter, for example, is a speech disorder. Language disorders are problems understanding or putting words together in order to communicate an idea. Sometimes a patient will have both problems. Someone who has had a stroke, for example, may be unable to recognize words and may not be able to say certain words. A stroke patient might also say “good” when she meant to say “pretty.” A language disorder can be receptive (difficulty understanding or processing language) or expressive (difficulty putting words together or saying something inappropriate).
Swallowing and Feeding Disorders
Swallowing and feeding disorders also tend to occur together, and may also occur in combination with a speech or language disorder. A person who has had a stroke might have aphasia – being able to understand language but not able to speak it correctly (if at all). In addition, the same patient might have dysarthria, which is muscle weakness that affects the ability to speak, and dysphagia — difficulty swallowing — because of the same weak muscles and coordination problems. Another common condition is apraxia, in which the messages from the brain to the mouth are disrupted. Even though the muscles are not weak, the patient cannot coordinate lip and tongue movements to say words.
Assessment and Planning
Although speech therapists occasionally work in small groups or in a classroom setting, they are more likely to work one-on-one with a patient, as each patient has a unique combination of problems that require individual treatment strategies. With a child, the speech therapist might use games, pictures or books. In all cases, the speech therapist will show the patient how to use the lips, teeth and tongue to form words, and give them exercises to practice. When people have swallowing difficulties, the speech therapist will use a variety of facial exercises and massage techniques to strengthen muscles used in chewing and swallowing.
The Therapeutic Process
If you are the parent, family member or child of someone with a speech or language disorder, the speech therapist will want to work with you as well as the patient. Most patients need to practice the exercises on a regular basis, and the social interaction is important, especially for elderly patients who may not be able to get out of the home. People with speech problems need patience and understanding; the speech therapist is there to support all concerned during the therapy.