What Does an SLP do? Speech vs. Language

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I am often asked “what do you really do?”  Many people think Speech-Language Therapists work exclusively to correct lisps, or /r/ sounds.  As students in Communication Sciences and Disorders, our eyes were opened to just how complex both Speech and Language are.

So…What does a Speech-Language Therapist do? What is the difference between Speech and Language?

Speech: Also known as Articulation, speech skills require strength, coordination and adequate range of movement of all the parts of the mouth and oral cavity to produce individual sounds and sound combinations (words!).  The oral cavity is complex, made up of many muscles, ligaments, and articulators.  Typically, a Speech-Language Therapist will assess your child’s tongue, lips, palate, jaw, and cheeks to make sure they are all strong enough, and able to work together, to produce accurate sounds.  Keep in mind, each sound in the English language requires different parts of the mouth, moving in different ways, together…phew!  For example, if a child has difficulty lifting the tip of their tongue, they might have difficulty with the sounds /t/, /d/, /n/, /s/, and /l/.

Language:  Language skills are broken into two areas…Receptive and Expressive Language.  Receptive Language is the ability to process and understand language, while Expressive Language is the ability to use all the components of language at a developmentally appropriate level to express oneself.  When working on Language skills, a Speech-Language Therapist might work on grammar, vocabulary, syntax or word order, pragmatics (social language), content such as spatial/temporal/qualitative/quantitative concepts, and following directions of increasing complexity.  A comprehensive evaluation, utilizing standardized testing, as well as informal testing, is important in identifying a child’s true language skills.

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