How Speech-Language Pathologists Help Students with Disabilities

Does your child have a disability that affects her spoken or written communication?

If so, you’ll want to learn more about the education, credentials, and practices of speech language pathologists (SLPs) — who are also known as speech therapists, speech pathologists, and speech teachers. These professionals are highly-trained specialists who work with children and adults on a range of disorders affecting speech and communication as well as organization and executive functions.

Education and Licensure

SLPs must hold a master’s degree or higher in speech-language pathology from an accredited college or university. Two-year speech-language pathology graduate programs are followed by a 36-week clinical fellowship in which individuals work full-time under the supervision of an experienced SLP. They must also pass a national exam called the Praxis for Speech Language Pathology to be certified to practice. In addition, speech-language pathologists must obtain a license in the state(s) in which they work.

To get started, follow this link to discover the college that offer undergraduate degrees in speech-language pathology.

Certifications

Many SLPs also seek a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a professional membership organization that provides training, resources, and advocacy for related disorders. Speech-language pathologists who work in schools are often required to earn an additional certificate in teaching.

Some speech-language pathologists also have a “Bilingual Extension” or “Bilingual Certification” authorizing them to work with children who are multilingual. Since the work of speech-language pathologists is language-based, it is important that whoever works with a multilingual speaker is an expert in each of the languages that the person has difficulty with.

Because there is currently a nationwide shortage of qualified, licensed speech-language pathologists in schools, some states permit services to be provided by Speech-Language Pathology Assistants (SLP-As). These professionals must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and be supervised by an SLP who is certified to work in schools.

SLPs who have passed the certification exam, clinical fellowship, and all required coursework will typically append “CCC-SLP” to their professional signatures, and may also include their state license numbers.

Work and Settings

Speech-language pathologists work on the forms and physical processes of communication. They have a broad scope of practice, with training in:

  • Speech, language (including pragmatics or social language), reading, and writing
  • Organization
  • Voice and dysfluencies (such as stuttering and cluttering)
  • Feeding and swallowing
  • Motor disorders (such as dyspraxia)

SLPs work with adults and children with many different physical and learning disabilities, including:

You may see SLPs working with children with learning disabilities by playing word games and rhyming, writing a morning checklist, or practicing how to say an “s” sound. They may also work with students who need to elaborate on their writing, those who have had vocal nodules, or those who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.

SLPs work with students both in and outside the classroom, as well as individually or in groups, according to the requirements of the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These specialists also work in schools, hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

The learning supports provided by school-based SLPs will be determined by a child’s IEP. These supports may include practicing the verbal production of sounds, developing an understanding of the structures of written language, or integrating assistive technology into a child’s educational experiences. Some schools have a speech-language pathologist on staff, while others may hire an independent provider through an agency. As noted above, if your child is multilingual, she should work with a multilingual specialist who is fluent in the languages in which your child has difficulty.

If her school — whether public or private — does not have an on-staff SLP and your child’s IEP includes speech and language therapy as one of her services, then she is entitled to receive free speech therapy at a clinic or other school through a mechanism known as a “Related Service Authorization,” or RSA. RSAs are district mandates that enable children to receive disability supports at other schools or in the community, free of charge. (The New York City form is an example of a RSA.)

Since the work and training of SLPs is so broad, when hiring a professional privately, it’s important to select a provider who has expertise in the areas that your child requires. Speech-language pathology services may also be covered by a family’s health insurance policy, though the range of disabilities and sessions may vary.

Questions to Ask an SLP

Here are several key questions that you’ll want to ask your child’s SLP:

  • Which area(s) of language are most difficult for my child?
    • Sounds (phonology)?
    • Word order (syntax)?
    • Past tense (morphology)?
    • Social language (pragmatics)?
    • If she has trouble in more than one area, how do these areas interact?
  • What classroom supports or accommodations would you recommend for my child?
  • What should my child’s teachers and I be looking for in her growth?
    • For younger children, what impact will your work have on her reading and writing as she gets older?

Further Reading for You: Other Members of the Team

Your child may also work with other specialists in addition to an OT. Find out more about the other members of your child’s support team by reading these comprehensive articles:

Further Reading for Your Child

Sources:

Anderson, N., & Shames, G. (2006). Human Communication Disorders: An Introduction, Seventh Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Licensed Professions: Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from New York State Education Department.

Speech-Language Pathology Assistant Scope of Practice. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from ASHA.