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Speech-Language Pathology

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Treatment for the improvement or cure of communication disorders, including both speech problems and language disorders.

Formerly referred to as speech therapy, the techniques, strategies, and interventions designed to improve or correct communication disorders are known as speech-language pathology. Both speech disorders, which involve difficulty in producing the sounds of language, and language disorders, which involve difficulty in understanding language or using words in spoken communication, are treated by speech-language pathologists.

In 1993, there were nearly 70,000 speech-language pathologists in the United States certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Speech disorders treated by speech-language pathologists include voice disorders (abnormalities in pitch, volume, vocal quality, or resonance or duration of sounds), articulation disorders (problems producing speech sounds), and fluency disorders (impairment in the normal rate or rhythm of speech, such as stuttering). Speech-language pathologists participate in the screening, assessment, and treatment of patients.

Persons with isolated speech disorders are often helped by articulation therapy, in which they practice repeating specific sounds, words, phrases, and sentences. For stuttering and other fluency disorders, a popular treatment method is fluency training, which develops coordination between speech and breathing, slows down the rate of speech, and develops the ability to prolong syllables. A person may practice saying a single word fluently and then gradually add more words, slowly increasing the amount and difficulty of speech that can be mastered without stuttering. The speaking situations can gradually be made more challenging as well, starting with speaking alone to the pathologist and ending with speaking to a group of people. Delayed auditory feedback (DAF), in which stutterers hear an echo of their own speech sounds, has also been effective in treating stuttering. When a speech problem is caused by serious or multiple disabilities, a neuro developmental approach, which inhibits certain reflexes to promote normal movement, is often preferred. Other techniques used in speech therapy include the motor-kinesthetic approach and biofeedback, which helps people know whether the sounds they are producing are faulty or correct. For people with severe communication disorders, speech pathologists can assist with alternate means of communication, such as manual signing and computer-synthesized speech.

The majority of speech-language pathologists work in educational institutions, many of them in public elementary schools. They are also found at both residential health care facilities and over 300 outpatient clinics that specialize in communication disorders and are often affiliated with hospitals and universities. Professional training programs in speech-language pathology are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergraduate training may include classes in biology, anatomy, psychology, linguistics, education, and special education. Most clinicians hold a master's degree in communications sciences and disorders from a program accredited by the ASHA.

Further Reading

Flower, R.M. Delivery of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Services. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1986.

Hicks, Patricia Larkins. Opportunities in Speech-Language Pathology Careers. Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons, 1996.

Lass, N.J., L.V. McReynolds, and J.L. Northern. Handbook on Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. Philadelphia:B.C. Decker, 1988.

Further Information

American Academy of Private Practice in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. 7349 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Canoga Park, CA 91303.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20785, (301) 897–5700.

National Black Association for Speech, Language and Hearing. 3542 Gentry Ridge Court, Silver Spring, MD 20904.

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