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What Is a Speech Pathologist and What Do They Do?

October 17th, 2019 | 4 min. read

By Michael P Underbrink, MD

speech language pathologist

speech language pathologist


A speech-language disorder is where your ability to understand and/or express ideas and thoughts is impaired. It can affect speaking, writing, reading, interacting socially and processing information. Swallowing and feeding disorders interfere with how you eat and swallow food and beverages safely, and they can affect education performance and overall well-being.

What Is a Speech Pathologist?

Speech pathologist definition:  Speech-language pathology studies and treats communication and its disorders. A speech language pathologist (SLP) is an expert in communication. A speech-language pathologist evaluates, diagnoses, treats and helps prevent swallowing and communication disorders in both children and adults. Some SLPs work in schools.

A SLP must:

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) offers a list of accredited schools that offer a speech-language pathology program.

Those with a graduate degree with primary focus in speech-language pathology might become Council for Clinical Certification certified, which shows certificates of clinical competence for speech-language pathology and audiology.

In nearly all states, it's required a SLP holds a current license in speech-language pathology or audiology to practice.

A speech-language pathologist works in various settings, including healthcare facilities, educational settings and private practices. Most SLPs work full-time, 40 hours a week; others work part-time. Those working on a contract basis might spend a significant amount of time traveling between facilities.

Speech-language pathologists, as communication professionals, have a unique opportunity to:

  • Offer services to a different range of age groups, from babies to adults

  • Work with other rehabilitation and medical experts to care for patients

  • Educate and counsel patients, along with their families and caregivers

  • Develop skills for serving mentors, supervisors or administrators

  • Use technology for assessing and treating communication and related disorders as well as for conducting research in communication disorders and sciences

Speech-language pathology requires specialized knowledge, attention to detail, intense concentration and skills. The emotional requirements of patients and their families might also be demanding.


What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

An SLP makes analytical decisions, organizes information and communicates efficiently in written and verbal language. Main job tasks include:

  • Creating and conducting various therapy interventions

  • Using adequate evaluation tools 

  • Attending staff meetings

  • Interpreting test results

  • Keeping written therapeutic progress logs

SLPs also consult with teachers, families and caregivers about the best ways of reinforcing the use of proper techniques with the patient for maintaining communication skills and motor functions in day-to-day interactions. After consultations, SLPs use the information they gather to revise treatment plans.

Speech-language pathologists treat a wide variety of swallowing and communication issues. These include issues with:

  1. Language: How well you understand what you read or hear and how you use words to let others know what you're thinking. This problem is called aphasia in adults.      
  2. Speech Sounds:  How you put say and put sounds together to form words. Other types of words for these issues are articulation or apraxia, phonological disorders or dysarthria.
  3. Social Communication: How well you follow rules, how to talk with different people, how you take turns or how close to stand next to a person who's talking. This is known as pragmatics.
  4. Literacy: How well you write and read. Individuals with language and speech disorders might also have problems with spelling, reading and writing.
  5. Voice: How your voice sounds. You might lose your voice easily, sound hoarse, talk through your nose or talk too loudly, or be unable to make sounds.
  6. Cognitive-Communication-How Well your Mind Works: Issues might involve attention, memory, organization, problem solving and other thinking skills.
  7. Fluency: Also referred to as stuttering, is how well your speech flows. If you stutter, you might repeat sounds, such as t-t-t-table, pause a lot when you talk or use "um" or "uh." Many younger children will stutter for some period, and then outgrow it.
  8. Swallowing and Feeding: How well you chew, suck and swallow food and beverages. A swallowing disorder might result in weight loss, poor nutrition and other health issues. This is also referred to as dysphagia.

A SLP might provide services a few times a week to start off with and then gradually reduce this time as progress is made, depending on diagnostic results. They might conduct treatment plans in group or individual therapy sessions based on what benefits the patient. Speech therapy goals might be to:

  • Strengthen muscles you use in swallowing and speech

  • Improve vocal quality

  • Model appropriate use of sounds

  • Improve word usage and vocabulary through play therapy

  • Explore alternative communication modes such as sign language

  • Devise activities for word retrieval skills and improving memory

  • Help students develop writing and reading skills

If your child is struggling with communication and language, they may work with a speech-language pathologist at school. 


Where Do Speech-Language Pathologists Work?

Some speech-language pathologists work in schools. Speech-language pathologists are included in the special education team in schools. They take part in the evaluation and intervention process. They work with children who receive IEP (Individualized Education Program) services or sometimes with those who receive services through a 504 plan.

The goal of an SLP is to help improve how well your child learns and performs in their classroom. To do this, they typically focus on your child's ability to use and understand language. They might work with classroom resources as part of the therapy, like books your child reads, or they might choose other resources that are consistent with your child's reading level.

Speech-language pathologists work with children both in small groups and on a one-on-one basis. They might collaborate with a special education teacher for supporting an individual child. They might also come into a classroom to co-teach a lesson along with a teacher or work with children in a language or reading center.

Most others speech pathologists work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) clinics, to provide patients with a comprehensive evaluation and treatment of their particular voice disorder. They work with patients at both ends of the age spectrum, including aging baby boomers and toddlers who have speech development delays.  For children, early diagnosis and therapy for speech and language disorders is essential for optimal success. 



If you believe you or your child may benefit from speech-language assistance, contact Houston ENT Clinic to set up an appointment.  Our speech pathology team at our new Voice and Swallowing Center work with a variety of speech, language and swallowing disorders, including stuttering.


Article by: Michael P Underbrink, MD


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Michael P Underbrink, MD