Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are health care professionals with clinical training and educational background in speech production, language understanding and expression, stuttering, voice health and swallowing. They assess all kinds of communication difficulties as well as feeding and swallowing difficulties. They also play a role in supporting individuals who wish to modify their communication through, for example, use of accent modification techniques and gender affirming voice therapy, to name a couple. They provide treatment and consultation to individuals of all ages.

Their work with clients typically focuses on one or more of the following areas:

Speech Delays and Disorders

Speech delays and disorders include conditions affecting the ability to produce individual sounds of language.

Articulation Disorders

Involve difficulties in producing the sounds of words. Sounds may be substituted, left off, added or changed. Some common sound substitutions include saying, “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “sink” for “think”.

Phonological Disorders

Involve difficulties in learning the sound system of language resulting in patterns of sound errors. An example would include substituting all sounds made in the front of the mouth (like “t” or “d”) for those in the back of the mouth (like “k” or “g”), resulting in a fronting pattern, where “okay” sounds like “otay” or “go” sounds like “do”.

Motor Speech Disorders

Include disorders that interfere with the ability to speak clearly or intelligibly. For example:

  • Dysarthria typically results when there is neuromuscular impairment of the speech mechanism (jaw, tongue, lips, palate and larynx or voice box).
  • Dyspraxia/apraxia involves difficulties with motor planning of speech and sequencing speech sounds.

Fluency Disorders/Stuttering

Fluency disorders and stuttering refers to a communication disorder characterized by disruptions of smooth, easy flowing speech. Such disruptions may take the form of the following:

  • Repetitions – of sounds, syllables, words or phrases;
  • Prolongations – drawing out or prolonging a sound or syllable;
  • Blocks – struggling or getting stuck when trying to say a sound or word;
  • Broken words – pausing within a word;
  • Tension – eye blinks, head bobbing, tensing facial muscles, etc.; or
  • Breathing disruptions – running out of air while speaking.

Voice & Resonance Disorders

Refers to disorders affecting the vocal mechanism.

Voice Disorders

Conditions affecting vocal pitch (high/low), loudness (loud/soft) and vocal quality (breathy, rough or strained). Also includes episodic laryngeal breathing disorders or production of voicing post-laryngectomy (e.g., use of electro larynx, T-E puncture, esophageal speech).

Resonance Disorders

Conditions affecting the sound of the voice as it travels through the throat, mouth, and nose resulting from neurologic, organic, traumatic or functional causes (e.g., stroke, cleft lip and palate, head and neck cancer, traumatic brain injury, or maladaptive speech patterns).

Language Delays and Disorders

Language delays and disorders include conditions affecting the use and/or understanding of verbal, non-verbal and written communications. More specifically:

Expressive Language Disorders

Refers to difficulties in communicating a person’s thoughts or needs in words and sentences.

Receptive Language Disorders

Refers to difficulties in understanding or comprehending communications.

Language disorders may be developmental or acquired.

In some instances, Augmentative and Alternative Communication approaches may be required and/or may benefit an individual with language and/or articulation/phonological difficulties.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Communication through the use of manual signs and/or gestures, picture communication systems, printed text, voice output devices, or any combination of these systems.

Pre-Literacy and Literacy Skills

Includes components of learning to read and write (i.e. oral language, alphabet/print knowledge, phonological awareness) leading to the ability to read and write.

Cognitive Communication Disorders

Cognitive communication disorder refers to a broad range of communication problems that may result from damage to regions of the brain that control a person’s ability to think, thereby impairing their ability to speak and write.

Feeding and Swallowing Disorders

Feeding and swallowing disorders includes conditions or disorders that prevent a person from consuming foods and liquids in a manner that is comfortable and safe.

Feeding Disorders

Include difficulty bringing food and liquid to the mouth and difficulty preparing to suck, chew or swallow it (e.g. difficulty keeping the lips closed so food and liquid stays in the mouth and can be sucked, chewed and swallowed).

Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia)

Involve difficulties in the act of swallowing, or moving food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Treatment of swallowing disorders focuses on preventing food or liquid entering the airway or lungs (aspiration) and protecting the airway from being blocked by food (choking).

Supportive Interventions

SLPs may also assist clients in other areas including:

Accent Modification/Variation

An elective service for individuals who want to focus on sound production, intonation patterns, speech rate, and fluency to alter their speech patterns.

Gender affirming Voice and Communication Training

Allows an individual to focus on aspects of their voice and communication skills they want to alter to align with their identity.

For more information visit What is a Speech-Language Pathologist.