By Negar Safari, MS-CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathology (SLP) is a highly diverse, special, wonderful, passionate, impactful, and loving field. In my three years as a Medical Speech Language Pathologist, I have learned so much and there is still so much to learn. I am proud to be a part of a field that values helping others, it has been truly beautiful for me to experience such passionate care from my interdisciplinary team and work community I have come across so far.
Now here comes the big question, what is SLP and what do we do? The name sounds interesting but what does the title mean and what does it entail? Historically, many have not heard this title as it has evolved to include a larger scope of practice than once originally formed. Most are familiar with the term “Speech Therapist” and learning how to speak at the elementary level while playing “games” to learn how to communicate and fix their lisp. Well, this field is so much more than games and fixing a lisp.
In its purest form, SLP includes the comprehensive evaluation and treatment of speech, language, cognitive and swallowing deficits across the life span (birth to death). The following are the SLP service delivery areas we work with:
– Motor planning and execution
– Pragmatics (language use and social aspects of communication)
– Prelinguistic communication (e.g., joint attention, intentionality, communicative signaling)
– Paralinguistic communication (e.g., gestures, signs, body language)
– Literacy (reading, writing, spelling)
– Problem solving
– Executive functioning
– Phonation quality
– Alaryngeal voice
– Cul-de-sac resonance
– Forward focus
– Oral phase
– Pharyngeal phase
– Esophageal phase
– Atypical eating (e.g., food selectivity/refusal, negative physiologic response)
– Speech, language, communication, and listening skills impacted by hearing loss, deafness
– Auditory processing
– Transgender communication (e.g., voice, verbal and nonverbal communication);
– Preventive vocal hygiene;
– Business communication;
– Accent/dialect modification; and
– Professional voice use.
(Listed above is from the ASHA Scope of Practice – American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016). Scope of practice in speech-language pathology [Scope of Practice]. Available from www.asha.org/policy/.)
As you can see, SLPs cover almost everything from the neck and up. It has been particularly rewarding for me to learn how valuable these parts of our bodies are and just how big of a role each part plays in the body. SLP is a new field too and the research is still in development –
there is still so much more we need to know. This field really needs more people interested in research. So, if you like research and are interested or are in this field, please do it – it will be much appreciated.
It can be difficult to know where to learn more about SLP and what we do. The best resource for professionals or friends interested in learning more about SLP is the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA is the national association for Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists, this resource provides educational resources for clinicians but also to the public including evidence-based articles, recent news, and information regarding specific disorders or appropriate referrals for Speech Language Pathologists. Please visit https://www.asha.org to learn more.
These four areas of speech, language, cognition/thinking, and swallowing play a role in our everyday lives. There isn’t a moment during the day where we are not using any of these functions, whether it’s typing an article, telling a story, calling your parent, or eating an apple. SLP impacts every action of daily living.
The consequences of not having these basic functions are significant enough to impact mental health in many areas because lack of care can negatively impact communicating basic wants and needs, the development of confidence, sense of safety, emotion regulation, and identifying emotions. The work of an SLP makes it so that these functions are easier to address in some shape or form whether it is direct improvement of the skill or a compensatory strategy for that skill. Many sessions are dedicated to counseling people on the impact of these issues and referring out to psychotherapists to address specific mental health concerns – I often find myself referring out for these issues! The ability to communicate and swallow impacts how we express ourselves and meet our basic needs like the ability to simply eat. Our mental health relies on these skills as basic functions to survive, which is why there are significant connections between communicative disorders and mental health conditions; many of my clients I have worked with have had anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
So, when it comes to connecting or knowing when to refer to an SLP, the most basic outliers across the life span are looking for impairments in the domains mentioned above: speech, language, cognition and swallowing. Usually in the pediatric population, we will find children who have language delay, word finding issues, difficulty forming words, articulating words or have poor syntax for their age group. With adults, most referrals would be due to various acquired brain injuries such as Parkinson’s, Dementia, ALS or stroke. Some key markers to look out for in general are complaints in speech, language, cognition or swallowing and observing for what appears to be gaps in communication across the spectrum whether it is socially, attending to a conversation, decision making during tasks or turn-taking in conversation. Please refer to the service delivery areas listed early on the article regularly to see if people present with conditions we treat.
I am honored and excited to be writing on behalf of this amazing, challenging, generous and growing profession of Speech Language Pathology. It means the world to me to be one of the voices addressing and providing general information about a field that means so much to me.
Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime if you have any questions of when to refer or not, I am more than willing to help.
Negar Safari MS-CCC-SLP