May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a time to raise awareness about communication disorders and the Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists who provide treatment.
A Speech-Language Pathologist (a.k.a. Speech Therapist) is a professional who evaluates and treats children and adults with speech and language delays or disorders. On the hearing side of things, an Audiologist is a person who provides diagnosis and rehabilitation of hearing loss.
I have worked as a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for nearly 12 years now. I learned a lot in school to help me with my profession, but my real education has come from everyday experiences in working with children and their families. These invaluable experiences have molded me into the therapist I am today. One important topic comes up frequently when talking to parents: most wish they had more knowledge and awareness of speech/language development so they knew sooner that their child’s development was delayed.
The two main areas of communication development are Language and Speech. Language is the rule-based system that we use to communicate, including what words mean, how they can be put together, and how to make new words. It is made up of Expressive Language (what is said) and Receptive Language (what is understood). Speech is the actual verbal communication and includes fluency, voice, and articulation. SLPs also work on Pragmatics, the social use of language, and aural rehabilitation, after children receive hearing aids or cochlear implants. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) has fantastic resources on speech/language development that can be accessed here: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/chart/.
There is little information on the incidence of communication disorders and delays in the United States. In the 2005-2006 school year, 1.1 million students were classified in schools as having a “speech and language impairment”. This number is certainly higher to account for children who receive therapy in outpatient clinics, non-public schools, and in the home. Beyond these numbers are the numbers of children diagnosed with Autism. It is now estimated that 1 in 68 children are on the Autism Spectrum. 1 in 68. What this means for SLPs is that our caseloads are being made up more and more of children who have a diagnosis of Autism. Not all children with autism have speech/language challenges, many need help learning to follow directions, take turns talking, greeting others, saying words, signing, and imitating gestures and actions. The list goes on and on. A lack of or delay in communication is often the first sign parents have that something is going on with their child’s development and so it is so important to understand typical development.
All of that is the technical information about what I do. It is very important that parents, families, and the public understand what speech and language is and when to recognize a delay or disorder. But, I can tell you that there is so much more to what we do. This is a job that my fellow SLPS and myself are extremely passionate about. We LOVE helping children learn to communicate! There is nothing more rewarding than the first time a child says a sound, word, or their first sentence. THAT is why we do what we do every day.
Kristin Kouka, MA, CCC-SLP
Kouka Kids Speech Therapy, LLC