What Does a Speech and Language Therapist Do?

What Does a Speech and Language Therapist Do?

Like so many professionals within the health care/education world, speech-language pathologists (a.k.a. speech therapists) do so much more than their job description would entail. Sure, they have specific training and often years of experience treating a variety of communication challenges; they can be counted upon to deliver powerful results. Yes, the main thing a therapist does is to directly treat speech and language challenges in a strongly goal-oriented and intensely focused manner. However, what many people don’t realize is that speech therapists often take on many additional roles to support your child and your family. It can leave anyone wondering, “what does a speech and language therapist do?” This post is dedicated to revealing some of these roles and explaining how parents can take advantage of these inclinations to further improve the life your child.

The old saying—that it takes a village to raise a child—really does apply here!

Photo by Woodleywonderworks

School Accessibility for Every Student

In a school setting, many speech therapists will opt to do “push in” services. This means that, for the appointed session, the therapist simply would embed himself or herself in the student’s natural classroom environment. This allows the therapist to provide direct academic support for the student in exactly the classroom tasks that a speech or language challenge might make difficult. So rather than address speech and language goals “in a vacuum” (i.e. outside of the student’s academic setting), the therapist is able to see exactly what the child is struggling with in the curriculum and, perhaps most importantly, how the child feels about these struggles. The therapist can provide immediate psychological support to the child and can also support the classroom teacher.

Often, students receiving special education services in a general education school can command additional resources from classroom teachers. Since in many school districts teachers are so stretched thin, this extra professional in the class can allow the teacher to re-focus on the other dozens of students that are his or her responsibility. This is enormously powerful. In this way, the push-in services that your child’s speech therapist can provide is benefiting the entire class, which in turn, benefits your child.

Coordinating Support Services

Depending on your child’s therapy plan, more than one professional may be involved. This could include an occupational therapist, school counselor as well as various classroom or specialty subject-teachers. In the case of a child with a language-based learning difference, the speech therapist would take “center stage” in short-term and long-term academic planning. Your therapist may also be the point-person to coordinate the implementation of that plan among the professionals supporting your child.

For example, your therapist may know that processing complex or multi-step information is particularly challenging for your child. With this knowledge, your therapist would be able to prep your child’s math teacher for an upcoming unit on fractions. The therapist may review some of the language within the unit and make suggestions for how this language can be modified to suit your child’s needs. She may also suggest particularly strategies that could compensate for the processing challenge. This could take the form of specific visual aids or special previews of topics that the therapist can review with your child before the unit on fractions is actually taught. This planning and coordination role is an absolutely vital one. Again, this can take some of the burden off your classroom teacher and in the end, help your achieve his or her academic potential.

Emotional Support and Advocacy

Recently, I penned a blog post with suggestions for parents on how to talk to children who don’t have communication challenge about how they should treat peers who do have challenges. Obviously, this is a vital topic and one that really resonated with my speech therapist colleagues. The volume of response from speech therapists who read that post shows how committed we are to the children we serve, not only regarding speech and language goals, but to each child’s overall well-being.

Your child’s speech therapist will spend significant one-on-one or small-group time with your child and will really get to know them. Your therapist can advocate for and support your child. He or she can also be on the lookout for any bullying or untoward behavior from peers that may be linked to your child’s communication challenge. Your therapist can also help be a specialized monitor of your child’s individual academic profile; your therapist will be able to help manage your child’s expectations so he or she won’t get too frustrated by a task that may really expose his or her weaknesses. By the same token, this deep knowledge of your child will help your child realize the sweetness of their successes. This is something that speech therapists naturally do, and do well. So make sure you as a parent access your child’s school or private therapist as just this type of emotional support.

This post’s focus is simply to have parents look beyond what you might think of as a somewhat limited scope of practice. Speech therapists are a caring, nurturing bunch and they relish the opportunity to be a multi-faceted support throughout your child’s academic life.

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