What is speech therapy?
Speech Therapists are trained to evaluate and treat infants, toddlers, children and adults with communication disorders or difficulties, as well as difficulties with eating, drinking or swallowing. This may include any of the following:
This is characterized by substituting, ommitting, distorting/ adding a sound during speech, and they are described as either articulation errors or phonological processes. These errors can involve the use of the tongue, lips, teeth or palate. Assessment of these errors will involve evaluating placement, sequencing, timing and direction of these articulators as well as the strength, range and speed of movement of the articulators and whether there are any physical contributions for the speech problem.
Language difficulties and disorders can be categorized broadly into difficulty understanding others, or difficulty expressing oneself effectively. This can range from a toddler who is developing language, to an adult who is struggling with language after a stroke or head injury. Language involves the following functions:
- syntax: sentence structure, word order, sentence length and grammatical features.
- semantics: vocabulary, understanding meaning in language e.g. where vs. when.
- pragmatics: the use of language in social situations, it involves interpreting and using body language, humour and abstract language.
The above areas are evaluated on a receptive level, ie how one understands language, and an expressive level, ie how one uses language.
Phonological awareness is defined plainly as the awareness of sounds within language, and is a precursor for later reading and literacy difficulties. It is purely auditory based and not literacy based, and children with auditory processing difficulties will often struggle in this area as well. Examples of phonological awareness tasks are segmenting sounds in a word, blending sounds together, deleting sounds in a word or replacing one sound with another resulting in a different word.
Stuttering involves three main characteristics: repetition of a sound, syllable or word during speech, prolongations (where one sound is extended for an unusual amount of time), and blocks (where the speaker makes no sound in an attempt to speak due to tension and lack of airflow). The age of the client as well as the severity of the stutter will be evaluated, which will determine the treatment program and intervention techniques used.
Auditory processing is the nervous system’s ability to interpret information that is coming through the ear into the brain. It is a task that is separate from actually hearing information, but rather being able to use information that is being heard. Auditory processing difficulties are common in school aged children. Children with auditory processing difficulties may demonstrate a variety of listening and related issues. They may have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions, and discriminating (or telling the difference between) similar-sounding speech sounds. Sometimes they may behave as if a hearing loss is present, often asking for repetition or clarification. In school, children with auditory processing difficulties may have difficulty with spelling, reading, and understanding information presented verbally in the classroom. They will often perform better in classes that don’t rely heavily on listening.
Auditory processing therapy and adaptations in the classroom are both necessary and will go hand in hand.
Feeding and swallowing
Difficulties in this area are characterized by inefficient ability to swallow or manipulate food and liquid material. This could be initially, where the food is manipulated into a cohesive unit in the mouth, or the tongue’s ability to propel and push the food backwards, or finally obtaining closure in the larynx to allow the food to travel safely into the oesophagus and stomach. All areas are evaluated and the results will determine which treatment and swallowing techniques to use.