Most people would also associate speech therapy as a form of rehabilitation for young children. In fact, speech therapists see a wide range of clients, from newborn babies to the elderly.
Speech therapists are allied health professionals who specialise in helping people of all ages with communication and swallowing difficulties.
Communication difficulties commonly seen by speech therapists are imprecise speech, hoarse voice, stuttering, or difficulties understanding and using language. These may arise from various causes (developmental, environmental, or medical conditions), or may be idiopathic (no clear cause).
Swallowing difficulties usually occur as a result of a medical condition and may include difficulties swallowing saliva as well as food and water, or pain or choking during swallowing.
A speech therapist will first assess the problem and then determine the best method of treatment. With their help, most clients will be able to manage their communication and swallowing difficulties better, and even overcome them.
When a speech therapist sees a client for the first time, the therapist will first conduct an assessment of the problem to determine the severity of the client's problem and identify specific areas of difficulty. Specialist doctors such as ENTs or neurologists may also be involved in the diagnosis.
To assess for communication difficulties, the speech therapist may obtain a speech or voice sample, conduct relevant language tests, and also gather information about communication barriers that the client encounters in everyday life.
To assess for swallowing difficulties, the speech therapist will examine the client's mouth and throat structures and swallowing function on a range of solid and fluid consistencies. Further testing such as videofluoroscopy (an x-ray video of a client's swallowing) or laryngoscopy (an endoscopy of the client's larynx during swallowing) may also be required.
Based on the assessment results, the speech therapist will then suggest the best way of managing the problem. This may involve exercises targeting the areas of difficulty, the use of assistive devices or environment modification.
Communication issues may be managed through one-to-one therapy, home exercises, or communication devices such as tablets, apps or more specialised equipment like text-to-speech devices.
Swallowing issues may be managed through diet and fluid modification, different feeding modes and strategies, or feeding schedules. Swallowing exercises may also be recommended.
The speech therapist will also work closely together with the client's caregivers, and other healthcare professionals such as doctors and allied health professionals to ensure that the client is achieving improvement in their communication and swallowing goals. Besides therapy, this could also involve collaborating with the occupational therapist to create an optimal dining environment, or working with the dietitian to create suitable meal plans.
With a speech therapist's help, clients with communication issues may achieve more effective communication, such as more precise speech or a clearer voice. Clients with swallowing problems may also be able to overcome their problems to achieve some degree of oral feeding, or to reduce their episodes of choking.
Anyone who is concerned about their communication or swallowing can see a speech therapist.
Among children, the more common conditions seen by speech therapists are speech disorders. Examples of this include lisps, stuttering, language learning delays and social communication disorders. The latter is most commonly presented in children with autism.
While we recommend seeking a referral from a doctor (GP or specialist) to see a speech therapist, walk-ins are also accepted.