A speech-language pathologist could...
|Help stroke patients regain their language skills through word games.||Teach sign language to a child with speech delays to help him communicate until his speech is clearer.|
|Diagnose a speech problem by evaluating a patient's mouth position as he or she makes vowel sounds.||Use bubbles and other games to help a child learn to make different shapes and sounds with his mouth.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||What if you couldn't tell someone what you needed or wanted? Or you couldn't understand what other people around you were saying? Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? Communication is vital to our lives as human beings. Language allows us to express our daily experiences, needs, wants, ideas, and dreams—even our jokes! Without it, we are isolated. Speech-language pathologists are the therapists who assess, diagnose, and treat communicative disorders related to speech, language, cognition, voice, and fluency. They also treat other problems, such as difficulty swallowing.|
|Key Requirements||Highly observant, focused, patient, outgoing, with intense concentration, outstanding communication skills, and a strong desire to help others|
|Minimum Degree||Master's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, foreign language, public speaking, physiology|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Much Faster than Average (21% or more) In Demand!|
|Interview||In this video, you'll meet Jennifer Oelfke, a speech-language pathologist who loves her work and loves learning about the important research in the field.|
Training, Other Qualifications
A master's degree is the most common level of education among speech-language pathologists. Licensure or certification requirements also exist, but vary by state.
Education and Training
Most speech-language pathologist jobs require a master's degree. The Council on Academic Accreditation is an entity of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; it accredits postsecondary academic programs in speech-language pathology. While graduation from an accredited program is not always required, it is required by some states for licensure and is mandatory for professional credentialing from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In 2009, about 240 colleges and universities offered graduate programs, at both the master's and doctoral levels, in speech-language pathology accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation. Speech-language pathology courses cover anatomy, physiology, and the development of the areas of the body involved in speech, language, and swallowing; the nature of disorders; principles of acoustics; and psychological aspects of communication. Graduate students may also learn to evaluate and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders as part of curriculum in supervised clinical practicum.
Speech-language pathologists should be able to effectively communicate diagnostic test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatment in a manner that is easily understood by their patients and their families. They must be able to approach problems objectively and be supportive. Because a patient's progress might be slow, patience, compassion, and good listening skills are necessary.
Nature of the Work
Speech-language pathologists, sometimes called speech therapists, assess, diagnose, treat, and help prevent disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing, and fluency.
Speech-language pathologists work with people who cannot produce speech sounds or cannot produce them clearly; those with speech rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering; people with voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or harsh voice; those with problems understanding and producing language; those who wish to improve their communication skills by modifying an accent; and those with cognitive communication impairments, such as attention, memory, and problem-solving disorders. They also work with people who have swallowing difficulties.
Speech, language, and swallowing difficulties can result from a variety of causes, including stroke, brain injury or deterioration, developmental delays or disorders, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, cleft palate, voice pathology, mental retardation, hearing loss, or emotional problems. Problems can be congenital, developmental, or acquired. Speech-language pathologists use special instruments and qualitative and quantitative assessment methods, including standardized tests, to analyze and diagnose the nature and extent of impairments.
Speech-language pathologists develop an individualized plan of care, tailored to each patient's needs. For individuals with little or no speech capability, speech-language pathologists may select augmentative or alternative communication methods, including automated devices and sign language, and teach their use. They teach patients how to make sounds, improve their voices, or increase their oral or written language skills to communicate more effectively. They also teach individuals how to strengthen muscles or use compensatory strategies to swallow without choking or inhaling food or liquid. Speech-language pathologists help patients develop, or recover, reliable communication and swallowing skills so patients can fulfill their educational, vocational, and social roles.
Speech-language pathologists keep records on the initial evaluation, progress, and discharge of clients. This helps pinpoint problems, tracks client progress, and justifies the cost of treatment when applying for reimbursement. They counsel individuals and their families concerning communication disorders and how to cope with the stress and misunderstanding that often accompany them. They also work with family members to recognize and change behavior patterns that impede communication and treatment and show them communication-enhancing techniques to use at home.
Most speech-language pathologists provide direct clinical services to individuals with communication or swallowing disorders. In medical facilities, they may perform their job in conjunction with physicians, social workers, psychologists, and other therapists. Speech-language pathologists in schools collaborate with teachers, special educators, interpreters, other school personnel, and parents to develop and implement individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities.
Some speech-language pathologists conduct research on how people communicate. Others design and develop equipment or techniques for diagnosing and treating speech problems.
Speech-language pathologists usually work at a desk or table in clean, comfortable surroundings. In medical settings, they might work at the patient's bedside and assist in positioning the patient. In schools, they might work with students in an office or classroom. Some work in the client's home.
Although the work is not physically demanding, it requires attention to detail and intense concentration. The emotional needs of clients and their families may be demanding. Most full-time speech-language pathologists work 40 hours per week. About 20 percent of speech-language pathologists worked part-time in 2008. Those who work on a contract basis might spend a substantial amount of time traveling between facilities.
On the Job
- Monitor patients' progress and adjust treatments accordingly.
- Evaluate hearing or speech and language test results, barium swallow results, and medical or background information to diagnose and plan treatment for speech, language, fluency, voice, and swallowing disorders.
- Administer hearing or speech and language evaluations, tests, or examinations to patients to collect information on type and degree of impairments, using written and oral tests and special instruments.
- Write reports and maintain proper documentation of information, such as client Medicaid and billing records and caseload activities, including the initial evaluation, treatment, progress, and discharge of clients.
- Develop and implement treatment plans for problems such as stuttering, delayed language, swallowing disorders, and inappropriate pitch or harsh voice problems, based on own assessments and recommendations of physicians, psychologists, or social workers.
- Develop individual or group activities and programs in schools to deal with behavior, speech, language, or swallowing problems.
- Participate in and write reports for meetings regarding patients' progress, such as individualized educational planning (IEP) meetings, in-service meetings, or intervention assistance team meetings.
- Complete administrative responsibilities, such as coordinating paperwork, scheduling case management activities, or writing lesson plans.
- Instruct clients in techniques for more effective communication, including sign language, lip reading, and voice improvement.
- Educate patients and family members about various topics, such as communication techniques and strategies to cope with or to avoid personal misunderstandings.
- Teach clients to control or strengthen tongue, jaw, face muscles, and breathing mechanisms.
- Develop speech exercise programs to reduce disabilities.
- Communicate with non-speaking students, using sign language or computer technology.
- Participate in conferences, training, continuing education courses, or publish research results to share knowledge of new hearing or speech disorder treatment methods or technologies.
- Supervise and collaborate with therapy team.
- Consult with and advise educators or medical staff on speech or hearing topics, such as communication strategies or speech and language stimulation.
- Consult with and refer clients to additional medical or educational services.
- Design, develop, and employ alternative diagnostic or communication devices and strategies.
- Conduct lessons and direct educational or therapeutic games to assist teachers dealing with speech problems.
- Use computer applications to identify and assist with communication disabilities.
- Provide communication instruction to dialect speakers or students with limited English proficiency.
- Conduct or direct research on speech or hearing topics, and report findings for use in developing procedures, technologies, or treatments.
Companies That Hire Speech-Language Pathologists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Speech-Language Pathologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- University of Central Florida. (2007, October 4). Speech-Language Pathologist. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
- teachmetotalk. (2008, July 19). Teach Me To Talk—Preview. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
- University of Central Florida. (2007, October 4). Brain Injury Speech-Language Pathologists. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
Explore Our Science Videos
How to make an anemometer (wind speed meter)
Make a Hygrometer to Measure Humidity - STEM activity
DIY Toy Sailboat