When people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a Speech and Language Therapist, I’m usually met with 1 of 3 responses:
Response 1- “Oh, I better make sure that I speak properly around you!”
Response 2- “So you work with people who stammer?”
Response 3- “What, with your accent?!” (I’m from Northern Ireland and I work in England…This seems to blow some people’s minds…!!)
It strikes me that Speech and Language Therapy is quite a misunderstood profession.
It doesn’t necessarily bother me that people don’t understand what I do. What concerns me is that if people don’t fully understand the remit of a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT), children with more subtle speech and language difficulties may fly under the radar. They may not be referred for speech therapy because parents or educators may not see the child’s difficulties as being ‘language’ related.
The statistics for undetected and therefore unsupported language difficulties are quite harrowing:
-Children with vocabulary difficulties at the age of 5, have a higher rate of unemployment at age 30,
-Primary school aged children with developmental language disorders are more likely to experience mental health issues in adulthood,
-Up to 60% of young offenders have Speech, language or communication difficulties. *
I could continue to provide you with many similar statistics but they all amount to the same fact- good communication skills = a better quality of life.
That’s why I thought I’d use my blog post today to clear up a few misconceptions about speech and language therapy. Instead of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, this is my list of ‘is’ and ‘isn’ts’- what speech and language therapy is and what it isn’t!
–Speech therapy isn’t elocution!
A few years ago I received an email asking if I offered ‘execution lessons’…While I can only assume someone’s autocorrect was playing tricks on them, as much as I don’t offer execution lessons (!!) I equally don’t offer elocution lessons!
SLTs do support children and adults who have difficulties producing speech sounds. This may be a simple developmental issue such as sound substitutions (e.g using ‘t’ instead of ‘c’ so that ‘cat’ would be pronounced ‘tat’) or something more complex such as verbal dyspraxia in which an individual struggles to coordinate their oral muscles to sequence speech sounds.
-Speech Therapy isn’t just something that takes place in clinics and hospitals!
I think traditionally, people view Speech and Language Therapists within a ‘medical model’, based in clinics or hospitals. And yes, some SLTs do work in these settings…But we also work in the community, in people’s homes and in schools.
I split my working week between special schools and mainstream schools. In a school setting, health and education merge to meet the child’s needs. Having a good understanding and use of language is crucial to enable children to access the curriculum.
–Speech and Language Therapy isn’t just about talking!
Communication is a complex, multifaceted skill. To chat with others, you must understand the conversation, be able to remember what has been said, interpret body language, select the words you want to say, structure them in a sentence, etc, etc!!
Speech and Language Therapists support people who struggle with any element of communication. That may be by developing a person’s understanding of language, working on auditory memory skills, developing vocabulary, supporting verbal reasoning skills, etc..!
This is what I love about my job- the variety! Of course, all SLTs will specialise in specific areas but we have to draw on our knowledge of all aspects of communication to support each individual.
–Speech therapy advice is beneficial for supporting ALL children, not just those with identified needs.
Training is quite a significant aspect of an SLT’s role….And while we provide training on supporting children with speech and language difficulties, SLTs can also provide whole school training on approaches that can benefit all children. Vocabulary development, memory, verbal reasoning skills- these are just a few training sessions I’ve run within school settings, focussing on supporting every child in the classroom! After all, every child can benefit from a language rich environment, with strategies to support their learning!
–Speech therapy is tried and tested!
SLTs are getting better at the majorly important concept of evidence based practice! We understand that it is crucial to use tried and tested therapy approaches. The Communication Trust even have this handy database on their website known as ‘What Works?’ (http://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/projects/what-works.aspx) to keep us up to date with researched interventions and their efficacy.
But in simpler terms, within daily working life you can see results occurring- from supporting someone who was non-verbal in beginning to use a communication aid successfully, to watching a child grow in confidence in communicating with their peers…There are all kinds of little (and large!) victories that can occur with a little help from a Speech and Language Therapist!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of what SLTs do and/or don’t do; just an attempt to make our role a little clearer. As us SLTs continue to fly the flag to promote our cause, I’m curious if I will begin to get a range of new responses when I tell people I’m a Speech and Language Therapist…!
* For more information on the statistics included in this blog post that specifically focus on the impact of speech, language and communication difficulties, this document by The Communication Trust is well worth a read: https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/media/31961/tct_genadrift.pdf