Are you here because someone you love has concerns in speech and communication? Or has a swallowing difficulty that’s hindering their feeding habits and health? If yes, a speech and language therapist can help treat your loved one – be it a child, teenager, adult or elderly. But, if you are thinking why speech therapy, how well does it work and are there drawbacks, let’s explore more about it here!
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy is the way in which any speech, language, communication and swallowing disorders are treated.
The domain speech covers voice, fluency, articulation, resonance and prosody. Language disorders consist of child language disorders, adult language disorders, receptive language, expressive language, phonology, morphology, semantic, syntax and pragmatics. Communication includes social communication and cognitive communication.
Speech language pathologists/ speech therapists are trained to prevent, identify, assess, diagnose and treat any kind of the disorders in any of the domains mentioned above.
Why we need speech therapy?
Speech therapy is recommended for those individuals who have difficulties in speaking, communicating or swallowing. Speech disorders affect the way ‘how’ a person speaks. Language disorder affects the way ‘what’ a person speaks. Communication disorders affect the overall ability to communicate. Swallowing disorders affect the way a person chews and swallows food.
Any individual who has a change in voice quality, pitch and loudness due to overuse, misuse or abuse of voice will need voice therapy. A voice disorder can be due to structural deficits or functional inabilities. In either case, a speech therapist can help you regain your voice in the best possible way by incorporating different voice therapy techniques.
Articulation is the pronunciation of different speech sounds. Any kind of clarity issues will need articulation therapy with speech therapists. An individual may utter one sound for another, add new sounds in a word or omit few sounds in a word, all leading to articulation errors making the speech difficult to understand. Speech therapists assess in detail and use different techniques to treat an individual with articulation disorder.
Fluency is the flow of speech. If there is any difficulty in the flow, rhythm and speed of speech of an individual, that would lead to fluency disorder. Stuttering is the most common fluency disorder which will affect an individual’s overall lifestyle. Repetitions, prolongations and blocks are the most common dysfluencies seen in individuals who stutter. Speech therapists assess the individual and implement different treatment strategies and techniques that can help the individual to speak fluently.
Resonance is the way in which air flow is shaped as it moves through the vocal tract, oral and nasal cavities. An individual with cleft palate most often will have their resonance affected. Individuals with cleft palate have hypernasality caused due to the excessive airflow through the nasal cavity. Those who have their resonance affected are assessed and treated by speech therapists.
Child language disorders
Language has two aspects to it: receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language is the ability of a person to understand and process spoken language and expressive language is the ability of a person to express oneself through speaking.
In children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Intellectual Disability etc., more often, both receptive and expressive languages are affected. Speech and language pathologists perform a detailed assessment and plan an individualised therapy for children with Child Language Disorders.
Adult language disorders
Many adults who have had a stroke end up having language deficits. These are acquired language disorders called Aphasia. Individuals with aphasia will have difficulty to understand language or express language or both. Speech therapists play a very important role in helping them restore their lost language abilities.
It is a well known fact that we use the same oral parts for both speech and swallowing. Consequently, if an individual has difficulty in swallowing, he/she has more chances of having difficulty in speaking. Speech therapists assess the swallowing deficits in an individual and implement safe swallowing strategies and exercises to facilitate better swallowing.
Besides the above, there are multiple other disorders such as Traumatic Brain Injury, Hearing Impairment, Laryngectomy etc. that can result in any form of speech, language, communication or swallowing disorders. A speech therapist can perform a comprehensive assessment and provide individualized treatment to help the individuals communicate and swallow better.
What are the benefits of speech therapy
Communication is one of the most important needs in life. The primary goal of speech therapy is to improve communication and make it effective. Speech therapists insist not only on verbal communication but also on non-verbal communication such as AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication). The many benefits of speech therapy include:
- Improving the ability to understand and express thoughts, ideas and feelings.
- Making speech intelligible for everyone to understand.
- Making swallowing safe and better.
- Improving voice quality.
- Making speech fluent.
- Developing pre-literacy skills.
- Developing practical social skills.
- Making everyone independent communicators.
- Greater self esteem.
- Improving overall quality of life.
What are the Drawbacks of Speech therapy?
Every coin has a flip side to it and so is speech therapy. Few cons of speech therapy to be taken into account are:
Speech therapy is time consuming. One cannot expect a person to start speech therapy and find improvement the very next day. It is a slow process and may have to be continued for longer periods of time. It is important for parents to get involved in rigorous home training which leads to better outcomes.
Depends on external factors
An individual’s improvement in speech therapy depends on many external factors, and hence, realistic expectations have to be developed right from the beginning. Although speech is the most desirable way to communicate, sometimes it may be difficult to make someone speak. In such instances, speech therapists suggest alternate modes of communication to aid the person express effectively. This makes it necessary to counsel parents to develop practical expectations.
Cost may be a concern for many because not every treatment is covered by insurance and not everyone can afford a speech therapist. To address this concern, some private clinics offer concessions to help parents in need.
There are many parents who are still not aware of speech therapy and do not know if their child needs it or not. It is important for parents to be able to understand the problem of their child and consult a speech therapist, if and when required.
Is it that speech disorder is completely curable?
It is a misconception that all speech and language disorders are completely curable. Some speech and language disorders are curable but depend largely on multiple factors to lead to a complete cure.
In the case of articulation disorders, when an individual learns how to pronounce a sound correctly in isolation, and in words, sentences and conversations (good generalization), then chances of him/her wrongly pronouncing that particular sound is very less. This is not true with fluency disorders. Even if the individual who has stuttering uses the techniques properly and speaks fluently, any single trigger can lead to dysfluencies. Relapse can happen anytime in a fluency disorder.
In Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD traits last throughout a person’s life. These traits can be controlled but can never be cured. While language aspects of a person with ASD can be improved and made age adequate in some cases, in some others it would not be possible. This stands true for almost all language disorders, irrespective of age.
An important factor in childhood speech and language disorders is the age of identification. Earlier the identification and earlier the treatment, better the improvement. A fifteen year old with language disorder who has never attended speech therapy cannot be guaranteed a good prognosis as a three year old with language disorder. This is because of the rapid development of the brain from birth to 5 years (maximum of 8 years). It is easier to learn things during this early period.
It is to be understood that not all speech and language disorders are completely curable. Speech-language therapists make one communicate and swallow in the best way possible according to one’s capacity. It is important to keep in mind that verbal communication is not the only way to communicate. There are multiple other ways through which one can communicate for building relationships and improving the quality of life.
Ability to express thoughts and emotions through language is unique to humans. There are different kinds of speech, language, communication and swallowing disorders with varying degrees of severity that can affect an individual. A speech-language pathologist /speech therapist can assess and design an individualised treatment plan to help the individual communicate most effectively.
It is important to keep in mind that in children, age of identification is vital as this decides a child’s progress. Earlier the identification, better the progress!