The Role of a Speech Therapist
Kristina Ruch, Speech Language Pathologist, Southwest Health
When most of us think of speech therapy, we think of improving how speech sounds, like reducing a lisp or stuttering. Many are surprised to hear that Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) work on several aspects of communication. Improving speech sounds is a small portion of what we do.
There are nine categories that Speech Language Pathologists treat, including swallowing, language including reading and writing, stuttering, articulation, voice, hearing, cognition/memory, social aspects of communication, and assistive communication technologies. SLPs see people of all ages for various treatments, not just children or adults.
Treating Adults. The most surprising aspects for people unfamiliar with speech therapy are the services offered to adults. As people age, they may experience an overall decline in function. Similar to how we associate older people with needing glasses or hearing aids, they may also need swallowing therapy. The muscles used to swallow experience decline, so intervention can be helpful to prevent further deterioration in functioning. The same goes for memory! There are activities and strategies a speech therapist can teach to assist with the memory changes people may notice as they age.
Treating Children. During the toddler stage, SLPs assist with speech and language development. It is important to pay attention to your infant’s milestones, and intervention is always recommended if they are not meeting the expected milestones early. We expect a 12-month-old infant to say 1-5 words. At 18 months, they should say 20+ words; by 24 months, we expect 50+ words. They should combine two words in a phrase, such as “bye mom/dad” or “more milk.” A child needs to be exposed to a word several times to learn it, so talking to them as much as possible is beneficial. Screen time or listening to music is less helpful with language development than talking with people face to face. The best thing you can do for your child is to sit down to play with them and read books to them each day.
Treating Infants. Speech pathologists also treat infants and toddlers. At the infant stage, speech therapy can be helpful for babies that have difficulty latching or not eating enough.
Exercises may be recommended for individuals with swallowing difficulty to strengthen the swallowing muscles. For children with speech and language delays, therapy is provided during play sessions, and recommendations are provided to the parents to facilitate development at home. Communication disorders are common, and speech therapy is proven to be an effective treatment for these disorders.
Southwest Health has two different Speech Language Pathologists to address people’s speech concerns. They help people speak better and gain confidence in the process. Our therapy help to strengthen speech, improve clarity, produce better sound and improve articulation.
Kristina Ruch, MS, CCC-SLP, has her master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Florida International University. Kristina has a special interest in geriatrics, stroke recovery, and dementia. She has experience in outpatient care, acute care, and skilled nursing care.
Francine Gates, MS, CF-SLP, has a master’s degree in speech language pathology from Emerson College in Boston, MA. She has a special interest in geriatric and dementia care with experience working in outpatient, skilled nursing, and school environments.
If you think speech therapy would be helpful for yourself or a family member, the first step is getting a referral from your doctor. Once a referral is processed, your initial evaluation will be scheduled with a Speech Language Pathologist. During the evaluation, a therapist will use a standardized assessment to determine how the client performs compared to people their age. If the evaluation determines that the client’s performance is below normal limits, then continued therapy would be recommended. Typically, treatment sessions take place once or twice a week and can vary drastically depending on the disorder being treated.