What is a Speech Language Pathologist?

Speech and language pathologists diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Most speech and language pathologists work in schools or healthcare facilities. Some work in patients’ homes

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What does a Speech Language Pathologist do?

Speech and language pathologists typically do the following:

  • Communicate with patients to evaluate their levels of speech or language difficulty
  • Determine the extent of communication problems by having a patient complete basic reading and vocalizing tasks or by giving standardized tests
  • Identify treatment options
  • Create and carry out an individualized treatment plan
  • Teach patients how to make sounds and improve their voices
  • Teach alternative communication methods, such as sign language, to patients with little or no speech capability
  • Work with patients to increase their ability to read and write correctly
  • Work with patients to develop and strengthen the muscles used to swallow
  • Counsel patients and families on how to cope with communication disorders.

Speech and language pathologists work with patients who have problems with speech, such as being unable to speak at all or speaking with difficulty, or with rhythm and fluency, such as stuttering. They may work with those who are unable to understand language or with people who have voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or a harsh voice.

Speech and language pathologists must also do various administrative tasks, including keeping good records. They record their initial patient evaluations and diagnoses, treatment progress, any changes in a patient’s condition or treatment plan, and, eventually, their final evaluation when the patient finishes the therapy. Some speech and language pathologists specialize in working with specific age groups, such as children or the elderly. Others focus on treatment programs for specific communication or swallowing problems, such as those resulting from strokes or cleft palate.

In medical facilities, speech and language pathologists work with physicians, social workers, psychologists, and other therapists. In schools, they work with teachers, special educators, other school personnel, and parents to develop and carry out individual or group programs, provide counseling, and support classroom activities.

What does it take to be a Speech Language Pathologist?

The standard level of education for speech and language pathologists is a master’s degree. Although master’s programs do not specify a particular undergraduate degree for admission, certain courses must be taken before entering the program. Required courses vary by institution. Graduate programs often include courses in age-specific speech disorders, alternative communication methods, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical practice in addition to coursework.

Speech and language pathologists must be licensed in almost all jurisdictions. A license requires at least a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience. Some regions require graduation from an accredited program to get a license.

What is the workplace of a Speech Language Pathologist like?

Almost half of all speech and language pathologists work in schools. Most others work in healthcare facilities. Some work in patients’ homes.

The following industries employed the majority of speech-language pathologists in 2010:

  • Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private - 44%
  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists - 15%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private - 13%
  • Nursing care facilities - 4%
  • Home health care services - 3%

Most speech-language pathologists work full time. Those who work on a contract basis may spend considerable time travelling between facilities to treat patients

How much does a Speech Language Pathologist earn?

The median annual wage of speech and language pathologists was $66,920 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $42,970, and the top 10% more than $103,630.

Learn more about being a Speech Language Pathologist