What is a speech-language pathologist?

Speech-language pathologists (SLP), or Speech-language therapists (SLT/SALT) help people with difficulties from the neck up! This includes communicating, eating, and thinking.

The following information and illustrations come from  The Informed SLP

Speech–language pathologists, or SLPs, work with people of all ages, from newborn babies to the very old. We work in schools, hospitals, private clinics, and living rooms—everywhere people need help with communicatingeating, or thinking! It sounds like a lot, but we receive years of specialized training in anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, child development, language, and more.


You may already know that speech therapists can help people talk. But that’s just a tiny piece of communication, and we do it all.

Communicating means getting my thoughts to your brain, then yours to mine. One big piece of communication is language—the words we use and how we combine them to make a message. Language takes many forms, including speech (the sounds coming from your mouth), sign language, and written words or symbols. We work with people who have difficulties with any or all aspects of language, whether they’re learning their first words or re-learning after an injury. When needed, we help people access language through technology too, like iPads, or even computers that can read eye movements or brain signals! ​

​But communication isn’t language alone. It also involves social skills and awareness, gestures, listening and understanding, and more. It’s a complicated process, and there are a lot of places where things can go wrong. And when communication isn’t going smoothly, SLPs can figure out where the breakdowns are occurring and help fix them.

We also help people who want to change something about the way they talk, like working on their speech fluency if they stutter or altering their voice to align with their identity. Sometimes it’s not the person themself who needs to change but something about their environment or social communities, so that everyone is set up for successful communication from the start!


You might think of eating as a simple process, but just like communication, it’s actually quite complex! People of all ages, from newborns to the elderly, can have mealtime difficulties. SLPs can help people learn to use their mouths to chew, drink, and otherwise get food toward their throats.

We also diagnose and treat swallowing difficulties, so our patients can eat without food going into their lungs or getting stuck along the way. Some of us help children and adults with feeding problems, too—things like physical discomfort during meals, fear of choking, or wanting to eat a wider variety of foods. And for people who eat through a tube, SLPs can find ways to help them feel included during family meals and make a plan for eventually weaning off the tube.​

​More formally known as cognition, thinking is the flow of ideas and thoughts through your mind. It involves connecting some ideas and discarding others. This includes planning, remembering, and organizing ideas, which lead to things like time management and self-control. Sometimes these skills are called executive functioning.
If your thinking is impaired, you might have difficulty communicating, working or studying, living independently, enjoying hobbies, socializing… even eating. These cognitive deficits happen in people of all ages and can be caused by traumatic brain injury, strokes, or degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. SLPs work with people to set goals based on what’s most important in their lives, and then help them learn strategies and skills to achieve those goals.

​Other people seek support from SLPs because of cognitive differences, meaning their brains are just wired differently from what’s “typical.” They might have a diagnosis like ADHD or autism. In these cases, we might work on skills related to self-advocacy—telling others what you need and how you want to be treated. ​


Could you or a loved one benefit from working with an SLP, or want to know more? 

Some of the best places to look are SLPs’ national organizations In South Africa, the USUK, or Australian groups.

You can also find websites dedicated to specific disorders, like developmental language disorder here or here. Childhood apraxia, cleft palate and craniofacial differences here and here. Information about cochlear implants here and here Support for stroke, here, and head injuries, here

Whatever your need, there are usually several great resources online to help you get connected. But importantly, not all websites you find will be high-quality, reputable, and evidence-based. So please find an SLP near you to point you in the right direction!


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