Facts about Speech-Language Therapy

What is a Speech-Language Therapist and what do they do?

A speech-language therapist is a professional who is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and who has completed at least a four year honours degree at a relevant university.  Speech-language therapists work in private practice, schools, hospital settings (both private and government) and rehabilitation centres.

Many people think that the role of the speech-language therapist is to help people speak. While this may be true, there is much more that we are also trained to do.

Language is the medium through which people communicate and school work is taught and assessed. Thus a speech-language therapist focuses on all aspects of speech and language skills that are used for communication whether it is at home, at nursery school or in the classroom. The main areas include: expressive and receptive language, storytelling, auditory processing and reading skills, language stimulation, grammar, and sentence construction according to the age and cognitive abilities of the child.

Who do speech-language therapists treat?

Although speech-language therapists deal with both speech and language disorders affecting both adults and children, at Calligaro & King ,we specialise in dealing with children who have speech and/or language difficulties including:

  • Children who have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, e.g. [r], [th], [s] or are having difficulty learning the sound rules for a specific language.  This includes children who have difficulty pronouncing sounds due to weak oral muscles.
  • Children who have difficulty planning and co-ordinating movements of the lips, tongue and mouth to make speech sounds.
  • Children who stutter.
  • Children who have difficulty learning language and are not expressing themselves appropriately for their age.  This includes both understanding and using language (vocabulary and grammar skills)
  • Children who have difficulty understanding and following the social aspects of language including the motivation to communicate, how to conduct a conversation and how to interact with other people.
  • Children who have speech and language problems related to neurological (brain) damage, e.g. from car accidents, near drownings, strokes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, etc.
  • Children who have a syndrome or a diagnosed disorder, e.g. autism, Down syndrome etc.
  • Children who have hearing difficulties which results in speech and language difficulties.
  • Babies and children who have difficulty feeding, swallowing, chewing and tolerating different textures and foods.
  • Children who have difficulty with auditory processing skills (auditory memory, auditory discrimination, following oral instructions) related to reading and spelling skills

How is speech and language assessed and treated?

A first appointment is usually set up so that the speech-language therapist can get to know the family, the child and the reported concerns.

Case history

The assessment usually begins with a detailed case history being taken which includes a discussion about the nature, onset and development of the speech-language difficulties, medical history, birth history, the child’s early development, developmental milestones, feeding development and schooling.

Assessment

A full speech-language assessment is then conducted using formal tests which are scored according to norms (what other children of the same age are able to achieve) if the child is old enough to complete the tests.

For younger children, assessments are usually conducted through more informal means, observations and parent reports.

Feedback and report writing

Feedback is then given to the parents which includes a discussion of the difficulties noted, recommendations for therapy, other assessments required, e.g. Occupational therapy, neurological assessments etc.  A detailed report is then written documenting the results and recommendations discussed in the assessment.

Speech-language therapy sessions

The frequency and intensity of speech-language therapy will then be discussed as well as the introduction of a home programme and/or regular homework which will be given at each therapy session.  Therapy sessions can be conducted at the child’s school if appropriate or at the practice.  Contact with parents, teachers and other professionals is vital so that all aspects of the child’s development can be addressed as necessary.  Reports are also written at regular intervals to document progress and to determine if further therapy is indicated.

When do I need to contact a speech-language therapist?

If your child has difficulty with any of the following:

  • Difficulty pronouncing sounds of the child’s language
  • Difficulty completing or understanding a story
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Difficulty understanding vocabulary words or struggling to remember or learn new vocabulary words
  • Difficulty giving definitions of words or concepts or explaining concepts
  • Difficulty retelling a story or telling their own story or experience
  • Difficulty giving answers from a story / comprehension or discussion in class
  • Difficulty naming an object, even though they are able to explain what it is or is used for. The child may often use utterances like ‘that thing’, ‘thing-a-ma-bob’, ‘what’s it called again?
  • Difficulty with specific grammatical constructions, e.g. pronouns, irregular past tense verbs, irregular plural words, contractions etc.
  • Difficulty constructing sentences in class. A child may jumble up the word order in a sentence or leave out parts of the sentence e.g. leave out articles ‘the’ or the subject of the sentence or use many unfinished sentences.
  • Difficulty learning English where English is their second or third language.  They often do not get enough exposure to the new language as they only hear it at school and not at home
  • Difficulty hearing the difference between certain sounds or words
  • Difficulty recall a list of words, numbers and instructions
  • Difficulty identifying sounds in words and blending sound together to form words
  • Often misunderstanding what the teacher asked or misunderstanding words

As Rossetti says: “If it draws attention, pay attention.”
If you are concerned at any stage of your child’s development contact  a speech-language therapist to evaluate your child’s speech and language.