Why do I ask a speech pathologist about my child’s speech and language development rather than my doctor?

A speech pathologist or speech and language clinician specialises in the assessment and remediation of all types of human communication disorders. When a speech pathologist fully assesses your child they will look at how your child is able to form words and say them, whether they use correct word order and grammatical endings, whether they are comprehending what is said to them and respond appropriately, whether they use the correct social conventions for language such as tone of voice, eye contact, body language, play skills etc. If a child is school age a speech pathologist will also assess their literacy and pre-literacy skills.

A degree in speech pathology takes four years. Speech Pathologists study anatomy, physiology, audiology, psychology, neurology, neurophysiology and phonetics. They also study human communication disorders in detail. The types of human communication disorders studied include stuttering, acquired communication impairments, delayed or disordered language development, voice, social communication impairment such as autism, literacy, language based learning difficulties, phonological difficulties such as speech sound production and use, and assisted augmentative communication which includes assessment for the suitability of a communication device. During their training speech pathologists work in health teams alongside other health professionals such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists, dietitians, medical practitioners, audiologists, social workers and nurses. This enables them to be able to refer to their colleagues when additional therapy may be required.

Doctors may study some guidelines with regard to the assessment of communication impairment and may have worked with speech pathologists in a team setting to form an opinion about the role of a speech pathologist. However, communication difficulties are not studied in detail by the medical profession.

Communication abilities contribute significantly to a person's overall health. One requires good communication skills to be able to explain to a doctor what is wrong and give a full case history including their medical management to date. They also require good comprehension skills to be able to follow their medication and exercise regime. A person requires good communication skills to benefit from psychological counselling or to give consent to a medical procedure once it has been explained to them.

Good oral language skills form the foundation for literacy. A child needs to understand words and their meaning to be able to comprehend instructions presented orally to them in the classroom setting or in written form on a worksheet. Classroom behaviour can often deteriorate if a child cannot comprehend what is required of them.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your child's communication contact your local speech pathologist or speech and language clinician. A medical referral is not required to visit your speech pathologist. If additional referrals are required to other health professionals your speech pathologist will inform you of these and contact your medical practitioner to request these referrals be made if the speech pathologist feels they are required.

One of the most important things to remember with regard to speech and language intervention is to seek help as soon as you become concerned. Age of a child at assessment and the severity of the communication impairment are crucial factors influencing  speech therapy outcomes.

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