What is the role of a Speech Pathologist in Healthcare?

““Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills, stuttering and using voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language. People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist” ”


What is the role of a Speech Pathologist in Healthcare? 

Most people will think that a speech pathologist works only with children, and to only treat conditions like lisps and stuttering. How boring that would be for those working as speech pathologists if that were the case! In fact, a speech pathologist’s scope of practice is much more varied than this. 

Speech Pathology is an allied health profession that diagnoses, treats and manages communication disorders and feeding difficulties through a client-centered approach for people across their lifespan. Speech Pathologists can support children and families with the following areas: 

Speech sounds refer to how sounds are made using the voice, tongue, lips, teeth and palate. This impacts how clear a person’s attempts of communication is verbalized. Yes, lisps fall straight under this category! Some support needs that speech pathologists can work with in this area of practice include speech sound disorders, apraxia of speech, dysarthria and motor speech disorders. 

Language can be separated into receptive and expressive domains. Receptive language refers to the ability to understand or comprehend language including attention, understanding the meaning of words, concepts and following directions. Expressive language refers to the ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings using language. This includes the use of vocabulary, grammar and word order in sentences and is completely inclusive of verbal sounds, gestures, signs and other non-verbal communication. Literacy also falls under language, which is the ability to listen, read and write. 

Social communication and pragmatics refers to the exchange from person to person, and how well social and cultural rules are followed. This may include, but is not limited to, taking turns in conversation, greetings and following social cues and appropriateness. 

Fluency refers to the flow of speech. This is more commonly referred to as a stutter or a stammer. While everyone in their life time will experience a stutter from time to time, those who have diagnosed stutters may experience continued involuntary repeated sounds, hesitant talking or unexpected pausing through their communication.  

Voice refers to the sound a person produces through their vocal mechanisms. Disorders of voice may include difficulties with quality, pitch and/or loudness. Some populations that speech pathologists can work with include people who are experiencing hoarse, strained, husky, soft or loud voices, as well as those experiencing differences to that of the same age and gender. Additionally, speech pathologists may help those who are experiencing tight or dry throat, and those need to clear or cough frequently after speaking. 

Swallowing and feeding refers to the ability to chew and swallow foods and liquids. Dysphagia is the term used for someone who is experiencing difficulties with both or either of these. Some populations that speech pathologists can work with in this area of practice include cleft and lip palate, strokes and elderly populations requiring maintenance and modifications of diets. 

So, when should I refer to a speech pathologist? 

If you have concerns for yourself, or your child across any of the previously mentioned areas of development, a speech pathologist can provide assessment and intervention to suit your needs. If you are unsure, we can help navigate through this for you. Refer to communication milestones for a further break down of what might be expected for your child’s age. 

So where can speech pathologists be found? 

Speech Pathologists can be found across both private and public settings in the following: 

  • Private practices
  • Kindergartens and Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Not for profits or non-government organisations
  • Universities
  • Aged care homes
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Community settings

Most importantly, speech pathologists can be seen online. There are many services online these days, and speech pathology is moving very quickly to delivering online therapy, especially after COVID-19.

There is a huge shortage of speech pathology services in rural and remote Australia, with only around 8,000 speech pathologists nationwide and waiting lists of up to 18 months is some areas. Umbo, an online speech and occupational therapy practice, was set up in order to provide these services to families in the bush, via online therapy, reducing waiting times to under a week!

There is an ever-growing amount of research that shows that online speech therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy, whilst providing more affordable and easier alternatives to travelling to a physical practice. To see how online therapy can improve your family’s lives, please follow the link for a FREE introductory consultation with one of Umbo’s speech pathologists.